November 12, 2021
These numbers talk. Well, not so much talk but yell. They’re unavoidable, emphatic, and tell the tale of a program that should actually get far more respect than it does outside of Delaware County.
It may this year.
Last week, Garnet Valley started its quest for its first PIAA District 1 6A championship. Since the Jaguars entered the Central League in 2008, under legendary coach Mike Ricci, the team has gone 113-12 in the league and over the last 190 games, the Jags are 160-30 overall.
This senior class just finished winning its fourth-straight Central League championship. This senior-laden group just smoked Central League rival Haverford High School, 42-0, in the opening round of the PIAA District 1 Class 6A playoffs and will host traditional power Central Bucks West tonight at 7 p.m. in the quarterfinals.
“We control what we can do and it’s something that we always work on,” said Ricci, who is in his 37th year—and final season—as head coach of the Jaguars and 38th overall year in coaching. “We work on trying to be the best team we can be, and that allows us to keep our focus immediately at hand.”
Ranked No. 1 in District 1 Class 6A, Garnet Valley is one of three programs still undefeated so far in 6A, joined by North Penn, the No. 2 seed, and Quakertown the No. 5 seed.
Garnet Valley quarterback Max Busenkell, a Notre Dame lacrosse commit, may own every passing record by the time he’s finished. This senior group at Garnet Valley is 28-2. Its only losses came against Downingtown West’s Will Howard, now at Kansas State, in 2019 and a loss to Coatesville in the 2019 District 1 semifinals.
They have a 34-game Central League winning streak and a 17-game overall winning streak to uphold.
Safeties Ryan Saunders and C.J. Wood stabilize the secondary, senior nose guard Nolan Brennan and defensive lineman Matt Collins are a force inside, linebackers Joe Halloran, Drew Van Horn, Drew Jackalous, Will Wrzesniewski and Kieran Gallagher suffocate the short passing game and rush, and corners Luke Lassik and Ndozi Okolo take pressure off the defensive front by how well they stick receivers.
With social media running rampant with teenagers, it’s easy to get lost in success.
Garnet Valley is a little different. The Jags don’t feel that they’ve achieved anything yet.
“We had a senior dinner the other night, and one of our coaches put it best when he said to win every practice instead of looking into the future of overlooking our next opponent,” Busenkell said. “As a team, I think we’re really respected in the Central League. But out of the league, we like to play with a chip on our shoulder, and we have to earn it.
“Those are the teams from Suburban One and Ches-Mont, and we have to earn their respect. We don’t think we have it yet.”
La Salle, the area’s No. 1 team, beat Prep the first time they met on Oct. 2, 28-21. The Explorers got a chance to avenge its loss to Roman Catholic, 45-0, last weekend after the Cahillites upset La Salle after the Prep victory.
One team seems to be going in one direction, while the other hasn’t appeared right all season.
La Salle is a senior-laden team. Prep has shown flashes of what they could be. Maybe the Hawks pull off the surprise? La Salle’s Sam Brown, Abdul Carter and Ryan Moore will have something to say about that.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has been writing for PhillyVoice since its inception in 2015 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.