For the better part of three years, York men’s lacrosse coach Brandon Childs has searched for a nickname for Brendan McGrath, Tom Pfeiffer and Hunter Davis, his all-junior attack unit.
They have individual ones — McGrath is McDouble, Davis is HD and Pfeiffer is Mr. Fundamental or T-Gun — but never one for the collective. Then, in a phone interview with US Lacrosse Magazine, it came to Childs.
They’re the Spartans’ Conehead Line, a reference to the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team’s line of Mark Pavelich, John Harrington and Buzz Schneider, made famous in by the 2004 film “Miracle.”
“Not only do they know where each guy is — they could throw it to a spot or not communicate as much — but off the field they can probably finish each other’s jokes and sentences,” Childs said. “We joke about how much time they spend with each other.”
McGrath hates to admit it, but he said the nickname is a fitting one for a ragtag group that never met before joining the York program.
Three years later, the trio is at the heart of a top-five team that has made the NCAA quarterfinals two years in a row. Collectively, they’ve racked up 51 points (33 goals, 18 assists) through a 4-0 start to 2018. Further, Davis was named US Lacrosse Magazine’s Rookie of the Year in 2016, while McGrath took home USILA second-team All-American honors a year ago.
“Right from the get-go, all three had something about their game that put them above the rest,” Childs said, adding their strength on the ride often gets overlooked.
Their talents and success, though, boil down to strong chemistry off the field. They’re all supply chain management majors and lived in the same dorm their freshman year. Davis and Pfeiffer now live together in an on-campus apartment, and McGrath is just two houses away. Plus, over breaks, McGrath often will pass up time back home in Pennsylvania to visit his line mates in Maryland.
The three players share a brotherly bond, Childs said, the type where McGrath is often the butt of a joke.
“They might not claim it that way, but my perspective is Hunter and Tom make fun of Brendan,” Childs said. “But Brendan is the leading [goal] scorer, so I guess he gets the last laugh.”
There’s no harm intended, of course.
“McGrath would try to eat our food, but we’d always be like, ‘If you eat our food, you have to make us food,’” Davis said. “We weren’t being mean — we love him — but just giving him a hard time.”
Davis, Pfeiffer and McGrath’s off-field chemistry translates into arguably the Capital Athletic Conference’s best attack unit, one in which each thrives given their roles. Pfeiffer is York’s quarterback behind the cage, while Davis is more of a perimeter shooter and McGrath uses his high lacrosse IQ to find pockets of space.
Responsibilities for the trio have evolved over time, Childs said, but what has stood out to him is their consistency since joining the program in 2016. McGrath, Pfeiffer and Davis have all started since their sophomore year, rising to the top of what was originally an 18-member recruiting class.
For Childs, that dependability is largely due to what the York staff saw — and grew to expect — on the recruiting trail.
“You needed to seem them multiple times to appreciate them,” Childs said. “You can go to a recruiting event and someone makes a great play, but they maybe hit lightning in the bottle at that moment. What made these three guys unique is every time you watched them play, you saw what you saw before. They were sure shots.”
Given the McGrath, Pfeiffer and Davis’ leading roles in the box score, it’s natural to wonder if they’ve embraced leadership roles off the field as well. Davis said they’d likely turn their attention to such duties when their senior season rolls around. In the meantime, they’re more apt to lead by example and give a pointer here or there to underclassmen if the opportunity arises.
“As a coach, you’re not going to question [their leadership] and ask them to be something you’re not,” Childs said. “They don’t need to be. What we need them to be right now is the poise and competitiveness of our offense. We keep it as simple as that.”
No. 4 York, which suffered its first loss of the season against Gettysburg last weekend, will play Nazareth (Friday) and host Stevenson (Sunday) in the fifth-annual Mustang Classic this weekend. The Spartans remain focused on ensuring 2018 doesn’t end like seasons past. Despite NCAA tournament trips in 2016 and 2017, Childs said, they didn’t improve much as the year progressed. They grew complacent.
From that, York has changed to become more process-driven rather than results-driven. Film sessions are now harsher than years past, and Childs said it’s largely been “three steps back to take one step forward.”
McGrath, for one, has embraced that change. The Conehead Line is at the center of it all.
“Every kid has been working so hard, and it’s rewarding to see kids giving their all in practice,” McGrath said. “It speaks to the culture where if they’re working hard, if that continues to happen, our outlook is looking really good.”