PENNSAUKEN – Two games don’t make a season and that’s good news for the Bishop Eustace Prep School boys’ lacrosse team.
The Crusaders began the year with two losses, and there was nothing to indicate that would be the start of an historic season.
But things changed. A decision over Winslow Township got the Crusaders into the win column, and they began to roll.
“We won a nice game over Gloucester Catholic early on and we began to get a little confidence,” said coach Rob Cormier. “We won a couple games and we started to string some together.”
Indeed they did.
Since their inauspicious start, the Crusaders have put together run of 16 wins in their past 17 games, which includes an active win streak of nine in a row.
The latest one came via a 9-8 verdict over Newark Academy Saturday, a decision that gave the Crusaders their first-ever Non-Public B South Jersey championship in the 11-year history of the program.
The No. 3 seed in the South, Eustace will play for their first state championship on Wednesday in a matchup against the North Jersey’s No. 1 seed, Pingry.
Jake Munz led the attack with three goals, followed by Paul Braungart and Blake Hansen with two each. Goalie Anthony Olivo also contributed with several big saves at the end of the game to hold off a Newark charge.
It was a gratifying win for Cormier, who also coaches the school’s football team. He said 17 lacrosse players came from the squad that went 2-8 last season.
“This is the same group I had in football, and we really forgot how to win – how to work hard,” Cormier said. “We didn’t understand how to play varsity sports. Now they know what its like to be on a varsity team and they’re playing like it.
“We’re playing really good lacrosse. I don’t know too many teams in South Jersey who are playing better than us right now.”
The Crusaders led all the way against Newark after getting off to a 3-0 lead, but had to hold on tight at the end.
They held what looked like a safe 8-4 lead into the fourth quarter before the Newark rally.
Munz scored the only goal for Eustace in the fourth quarter with 8:20 to play in the game, and it stood up as the game-winner.
He spoke about what it took for the team to turn around the season.
“Coming into the year we were a little rusty,” he said. “We played two really tough teams (Paul VI and Eastern) but we really ramped it up after that.
“In practice we became more intense. As a team we came closer and we started jelling.”
One of the things that may have slowed progress in the beginning was the addition of Pat Dunleavy, a transfer from St. Augustine.
Munz said it took a little period of adjustment to figure out how to work Dunleavy into the offense, but those days are long in the past.
On Saturday, Dunleavy scored his 48th goal of the season. With one more game still to play Dunleavy has a chance to break the school record for goals in a season, which now stands at 51.
Braungart agreed that the team needed a little time to get to know each other.
“After those two losses, it wasn’t that we weren’t prepared or not in the spot we needed to be skillwise,” he said. “We needed to get more comfortable as a team and get into a flow as a team.”
Against Newark, the Crusaders continued doing what they have done against just about everybody else.
Dunleavy got the scoring started with a goal two minutes into the game. Then Braungart scored two wrapped around goals from Hansen and Munz as the Crusaders opened a 4-1 lead after one quarter.
They were up 5-3 at the half and then seemed to pull away when Hansen, Braungart and Tim Spellman scored in succession to open an 8-3 lead.
But Newark kept chipping away and pulled to within one goal with 3:16 to play.
With the help of Olivo making some key stops, however, the Crusaders were able to run out the clock.