In the waning moments of the Haddonfield boys lacrosse team’s final regular season loss – a 12-4 matchup against The Hun School of Princeton – it was apparent to head coach Damon Legato why the outcome was the way that it was.
In fact, it reminded Legato – and many of the team’s upperclassmen – of last season’s postseason 8-7 loss in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 1 quarterfinal round to Shore Regional High School.
“What feels like it was probably the biggest thing for us was when we lost that game to Hun earlier this season,” Legato said. “They had played a zone against us and it made us realize that that was a weak spot of ours, trying to score against that kind of defense.
“That’s kind of what caught us last year against Shore too,” he added. “We felt like we had a talented team that could’ve gone further … so we dug in and started to work on our offense against a zone right after that. We were able to admit our own faults, as players and as coaches, and hold each other accountable in working on our deficiencies to get better as a team.”
Sure enough, addressing the issue paid off big for the Bulldawgs: Haddonfield’s loss against The Hun School necessitated serious assessments and reworking of the team’s offense, ultimately leading to a nine-game winning streak that netted the program its first ever sectional title. Haddonfield defeated Caldwell 12-4 in the victory, with senior Finn Morgan scoring a team-high three goals and five points to capture the NJSIAA sectional title.
A barrage of overnight rain delayed the start of the game for an hour, before a mid-game hailstorm resulted in the field being declared unplayable and required a mid-game location switch. Needless to say, the stormy weather did not reflect the jovial and charismatic personality Haddonfield played with while in search of its first program sectional title.
Even while playing in the rain and hail, the adversity is something the Bulldawgs embraced, and almost encouraged.
“It was a pretty close game up until the middle of the second quarter, when the adversity started to really hit, with the rain and the hail being a factor,” senior Zach Laperriere said. “We didn’t stop with our play style or energy, but [Caldwell] was trying to not get hit by the rain under their tent, and I felt like that’s when it changed. We took control and it felt like we couldn’t be stopped.”
“We’d played through all different sorts of conditions over the course of the season: snow, rain and now hail …” said Morgan, a Delaware commit. “We had 5 a.m. practices and went through plenty of adversity. All season long, our coaches talked about embracing the ups and downs, especially what could be considered downs, because when you climb out of it, it makes it that much better. So we took it on.”
The aforementioned reworking of the offense is one that took time to learn and get comfortable with, both Morgan and Leperriere said. But the urgency to adapt to the glaring weakness in their team’s offense, Morgan said, is one that required the players to work on such a solution.
“It was something that we still weren’t familiar with at that time, but we realized we had to adapt, because if teams saw that footage and realized we weren’t comfortable going against a zone defense, then that’s what we’d probably see moving forward,” Morgan said.
“We worked on it so much that I feel like it’s one of the strong points of our offense now.”
With the win, Haddonfield added the sectional title to the school’s trophy cabinet while heading for its first state championship game in program history, something the 10th-year head coach of the Bulldawgs said has been a goal for a long time, thanks to the culture implemented over the years from student athletes who had already gone through the program.
“It’s monumental,” Legato said. “It’s always been our overarching goal, but we’ve had smaller pieces along the way that we’ve hit over time to get us to this point as a program. This championship says a lot about our alumni as well, the guys that were here in past seasons that helped us build towards this.”