Delran lacrosse reaching new heights in 2021

Setting an ambitious goal earlier this spring is leading to the best season in years for the Bears

Heading into the 2021 lacrosse season, Delran senior goalie Dane Sabarese and his fellow upperclassmen wanted to set an ambitious goal for themselves in their return to the field after a lost season last year.

“My sophomore year, our main goal was to hold every team to seven goals or fewer, and that was just kind of a goal that we set for ourselves at the beginning of the year,” said Sabarese. “Whether we accomplished that by making saves or causing turnovers on defense, we wanted to be able to hold opponents to that mark throughout the season.”

By the end of that year, the Bears would finish 11-6 (7-3 within the Burlington County Scholastic League) while averaging 7.8 goals allowed in those 17 games, remarkably close to the goal they’d initially set for themselves.

But now, going into his senior season, Sabarese wanted to set an even higher bar for himself and the Delran defense.

“Coming into this year, I’d talked to some of the guys about wanting to set a similar goal,  but actually make it even a little lower and set it at five goals or fewer,” Sabarese said.  “So we just kind of had to work together to strengthen our defense, and I would say that’s a big reason why we’ve been able to stay in so many games thus far.”

Lofty goal or not, the Bears have certainly backed up their talk with great play in the BCSL league. Delran started the season off hot and has kept it that way throughout the season so far, most recently defeating conference titan Northern Burlington in a close 8-7 game to keep their undefeated record alive and move to 10-0 on the year.

Head coach Ben Whitcraft is in his fourth year at Delran and says coming into this year, the program looked to simply institute the same game plan and ideology it initially planned on before last season was cancelled, helping get the program off to a hot start.

“What we were looking to do last year, we essentially did this year; we didn’t really change anything drastically, so I think there was a comfortability there,” Whitcraft said. “The big thing for our guys though, was to stay confident in themselves.”

In the Bears’ return to high-school play, Whitcraft said there was no doubt about the potential and skills of the various freshmen and sophomores who have now turned into juniors and seniors at the head of the program. Instead, there were merely questions as to how they, like all other student-athletes across the country, would respond to being a year removed from the game.

“There weren’t really any question marks about any of these guys, about what they had the potential to do, but instead, how would they attack it and did they need that year of development and watching the seniors above them to learn?” Whitcraft said. “Individually and as a group, we have a bunch of guys that are super competitive in a good way, so I think they really took on that challenge and pushed each other and eventually gelled together.”

“We knew my freshman year that we had a really good team and a good group of kids,” said junior Seamus Schofield. “We obviously didn’t play last year, so when we came out this year, I guess we didn’t really know how we’d come out until we actually started playing. But once we saw how well we worked together as a team, we realized that we have a really good team early on.”

In his role as a midfielder and faceoff man for the Bears, Schofield, the program’s first ever Division I commit, has contributed greatly to the team’s goal of allowing five or fewer goals per game by winning faceoffs at an insanely high clip of 94 percent through the first 10 games. Couple that with Sabarese’s save percentage of 76 percent, and you get a team that limits shots, with a goalie who makes the majority of the saves when shot on anyway.

After its 10-0 start, Delran has four regular season games left on the schedule, including another matchup against Northern Burlington at home, before the postseason. But despite only a few days left in the schedule, Whitcraft keeps his guys focused on the present and on hard work.

“The big expectation right now is just getting better each and every day,” said Whitcraft.