South Xtra: New Upper St. Clair lacrosse coach has Panthers on prowl

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The 2013 boys high school lacrosse season was an extremely memorable one for Brian Yates.

His Seton-LaSalle team raced through the regular season and then the WPIAL Division 2 playoffs with a stellar record of 15-1 and won the tournament championship.

But when the opportunity arose to coach the boys team at Upper St. Clair High School, Yates seized the chance to move to one of the larger schools in the district and the chance to coach his three sons in their hometown when they reach high school age.

"I was [at Seton-LaSalle] for just one year, and leaving that program was one of the toughest decisions I've ever had to make," Yates said. "I had great relationships with the players, the parents and the administration. They were very understanding of me while I was there, and they were supportive when I decided to leave."

Since Yates became Upper St. Clair's coach, the Panthers have thrived. The Panthers ran their record to 5-0 heading into Wednesday's game against Trinity.

A weekend trip to Maryland yielded Panthers' victories against Havre de Grace, 10-6, and 2013 Maryland state runner-up Patterson Mill, 6-5.

Even more important was the pivotal 9-8 victory against Peters Township that took place on March 26. The victory avenged a 9-6 setback Upper St. Clair suffered a year ago when the Panthers finished 7-9 and failed to qualify for the WPIAL Division 1 playoffs.

Thus far, Upper St. Clair has thrived offensively, winning three of its games by margins of four goals or greater. Yates credits offensive coordinator Jack Flinter with his team's ability to score goals.

"Jack wants us to be balanced and attack from any position," Yates said. "We don't want our team to be predictable in that we don't want one or two guys to do the scoring. We have a lot of our guys who are unselfish."

They have an offensive coordinator in Flinter who has a lot of experience.

"He's been coaching lacrosse since the 1980s, and he was named the coach of the year in 1991 when he was coaching in Framingham, Mass. He and I have coached at the Pittsburgh Select Lacrosse Club together."

The team has heeded the lessons prescribed by Yates and Flinter.

Going into Wednesday's game at Trinity, senior attack and captain Kyle Page had 7 goals and 12 assists, while another senior attack and captain, Tom Fitch, was the team's leading goal-scorer with 11 goals and 2 assists. Junior attack Mac Madson had 9 goals and 1 assist, while another captain, midfielder David Rice has 8 goals and 4 assists.

Junior midfielder Braden Kaib is the Panthers' leader in ground balls, which is lacrosse's equivalent of a fumble recovery. He has 15 ground balls through five games. Senior defender and captain Ben Southorn is next with 14 ground balls.

"We're more interested in team statistics," Yates said. "But when you have more balance with a lot of weapons, it makes you a better team."

The team is anchored defensively by junior goalie Gavin Keefe, who lost 20 pounds during the off-season and made some key saves to preserve the victory against Peters Township.

"Gavin has worked very hard to increase his fitness level," Yates said. "He did all of that on his own, and he's done a great job in goal helping his team."

Yates is dedicated to the long-term at Upper St. Clair and hopes to coach his sons. Already, older sons Braden, 11, and Dalton, 7, are playing along with daughter Penny, 10. He said 4-year-old Hudson wants to play right now.

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