Quick start could mean special season for Pine-Richland boys lacrosse

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Sunday, April 7, 2024 | 11:01 AM


The past couple of years, the Pine-Richland boys lacrosse team took its lumps early before gaining momentum with late-season winning streaks prior to the playoffs.

This season, the Rams have come out of the gates strong, which could be an indication of special things to come.

The Rams were 5-1 entering their first section game against Fox Chapel on April 3.

Pine-Richland coach Dave Offner said familiarity as well as being a more veteran team has driven the quick start.

“We lost some talent with that senior class last year, but we had a lot of underclassmen that played very meaningful varsity minutes,” Offner said. “We’re more experienced this year than we’ve been in the last several years.”

Pine-Richland lost to seven-time defending WPIAL Class 2A champion Mars in the season opener, but then reeled off five consecutive victories over defending 3A champion Mt. Lebanon, Penn-Trafford, Peters Township, Norwin and Hampton.

The Rams have experience within each position group.

They are led by senior attack Cooper Zancosky and midfielder Sam Rippole. Each is a returning captain.

Zancosky is an Oberlin recruit and the team’s leading scorer.

“Cooper has done a great job filling that leadership role, not only for the offense, but for the whole team,” Offner said. “It’s good to have him and Sam back as captains. Cooper has always been a great team player. He’s not concerned about individual stats. He just wants the team to benefit from understanding the system. With the knowledge and experience he brings, it’s almost like having a coach on the field.”

The Rams have two midfielders, Talan Hill-Ressler (Westminster) and JL Aiello (Susquehanna), who are college recruits.

Aiello will play football and lacrosse in college.

Along with Rippole, Aiello and Hill-Ressler anchor a midfield that is pretty much intact outside of a couple graduates.

Luke Hatzimbes, the top faceoff taker, also returns.

Justin White, a senior, is back as the team’s goalkeeper. Justin’s younger brother Zach White, a junior, is a returning starter on defense along with senior Brett Saulnier.

Pine-Richland has new coaches in the offensive and defensive coordinator roles. Offensive coordinator Bradley LaBovick has been on the staff prior to this season. Paul Schwartz runs the defense after coming over from Hampton.

Offner credited both his coordinators with helping the team get up to speed quickly.

With the Mt. Lebanon win, the Rams have shown they can play with some of the top teams in the area. Now they’ll look to continue to prove themselves in section play.

“It starts with a mindset, and I think our group has the right one,” Offner said. “In years past, it was difficult, facing adversity with the strength of schedule we’ve had, and we have pretty much the same difficult schedule this year, but I can tell we’re different. We had fewer numbers in our senior class last year, but this year our senior class is pretty big. We just have a different approach with our mindset and good leadership, mainly from our senior class, but from some of the underclassmen as well. These guys are used to playing at the higher level that is the varsity level. They know what to expect.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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