Four games into the 2014 WPIAL Division 1 boys lacrosse season, the Shady Side Academy Indians were barely treading water with an overall record of 2-2.
Since a 5-4 loss to Division 1, Section 2 rival Pine-Richland, however, things mostly have gone right for the 10-4 Indians heading into Wednesday's regular-season finale against neighborhood and section rival Fox Chapel Area.
After that, it's playoff time and first-year coach Michael Williams said the confidence has piled up along with the victories.
"After that rough start, the guys started to take accountability for themselves and what we were trying to do," he said. "We changed up the way we were practicing, and we took what we were doing in our practices into games."
During a span where the only blemish was a 10-2 loss to Ohio rival Upper Arlington, the Indians won eight of nine games. Their victories included triumphs against prep school power Kiski Prep, 6-5 in overtime, and two WPIAL Division 1 stalwarts, North Allegheny, 9-6, and Sewickley Academy, 10-3.
Offensively, the Indians are led by Dan Marous, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound senior attack from Fox Chapel, who has scored 44 goals and dished out 20 assists and Michael Concordia, a 5-8, 160-pound senior midfielder from O'Hara Township, who has scored 21 goals and dealt out 19 assists.
Marous has been a busy student-athlete at Shady Side Academy. A captain on the lacrosse team, he also played for -- and was a captain of -- the school's football (place-kicker), soccer (special defender) and basketball (point guard) teams.
"I like them all, but I definitely like lacrosse the best," he said. "I've shifted between attack and midfield, but this year I've been playing attack."
Marous said playing other sports, particularly soccer, has helped him in lacrosse.
"Any time I'm going into a scrum while going after a ground ball, I'll see a lot of players trying to pick up the ball with their sticks. Soccer helps me to be foot-minded, so I'll kick the ball and then pick it up with my stick. I think that's given me an advantage on ground balls."
Marous, who plans to major in pre-med, hasn't picked a college yet, but he is looking at several Ivy League colleges along with Notre Dame.
Defensively, the Indians have been anchored for the past three seasons by Tucker Gillman, who plans to play in college at Big East member Georgetown.
"Tucker has been our rock for three years and he's also one of our team's captains," Williams said. "Everything starts and ends with him. Everyone on our team sees how hard he works. What he's done has been huge for our team. When our offense has struggled, it's been great to have that consistency in our net."
Another key player has been Matt O'Connor, a 6-3, 210-pound senior captain from Hampton, who has helped anchor the Indians defense.
Going into the final week of the season, the Indians, Pine-Richland and North Allegheny all had one section loss apiece. Fox Chapel is right behind those teams with two section losses.
As far as Williams is concerned, the playoffs began this week with that big rivalry match against Fox Chapel.
"I see that game as a playoff game," he said. "That's going to help with seeding purposes, and after that game, it's win or go home. We're taking the attitude that our biggest rival is the next game on our schedule."
Williams has no doubt that this year's eight-team WPIAL playoff field will be full of quality squads.
"There's not much disparity between the teams," he said. "There might be four or five top dogs, but this will be a great field."
All four boys and girls championship games -- two in Division 1 and two in Division 2 -- will be played at Highmark Stadium, adjacent to Station Square.