Mike Friel Steps up to Coach Radnor High School’s Lacrosse Team

Radnor High School's athletic director hopes to continue a remarkable run on the lacrosse field.

When Radnor High School’s Michael Savadove first learned of lacrosse coach John Begier’s decision to retire, he sought consolation in the office of athletic director Mike Friel. “I was worried,” the senior defenseman says. “It was like my best friend was dead. I didn’t know what to do. I was losing it.”

A rare three-sport athlete, Savadove has helped Radnor teams win two district soccer titles, a district basketball title (with a shot at another at press time) and three consecutive state lacrosse titles. Little did he know that he was sitting in front of Begier’s successor in the office that day.

Savadove is headed to Harvard University this fall. But first, he’ll be spending some time on the lacrosse field with Begier’s successor. “We didn’t want our guys to have any drop-off,” says Friel, explaining his choice to take over the role.

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These days, having an athletic director who also coaches isn’t all that common. Tom Lemieux, Springfield High School’s athletic director and boys lacrosse coach, is another example. Lemieux actually succeeded Friel, who was 112-48 at Springfield from 2003 to 2010, when the Cougars won two Central Athletic League championships. After his team finished 20-3 in 2010, Friel was named coach of the year by the Central Athletic League and the Eastern Pennsylvania Lacrosse Association. His 100th win came that year against Conestoga High School. “I want to give these guys my all,” Friel says. “At the end of the season, if my boss says I’ve given too much or I feel I’ve given too much, we’ll start the search process in June.”

Mike Friel (center), Radnor High School’s athletic director and new lacrosse coach, with players Nate Lucchesi (left) and Michael Savadove.
Mike Friel (center), Radnor High School’s athletic director and new lacrosse coach, with players Nate Lucchesi (left) and Michael Savadove.

Friel has a busy season ahead. No area lacrosse coach’s success compares to Begier’s. Over a 17-year career, he guided Radnor to four Pennsylvania Scholastic Athletic District III championships, amassing 262 wins. Last spring, his Raptors became only the second team to win three straight PIAA titles. This spring, Radnor is shooting for state history—a fourth straight PIAA crown. In the final Inside Lacrosse Top 25 High School Power Rankings for 2023, Radnor was the second-ranked public institution. The year before, the National Interscholastic Lacrosse Coaches Association named Begier coach of the year. In 2021, he was Phillylacrosse.com’s coach of the year.

This past spring, Springfield defeated Radnor in the district final 10-8. Then Begier’s team dismantled Springfield 8-1 in the state final. In their three PIAA title wins, the Raptors outscored opponents 30-6. “Radnor’s become the measuring stick of scholastic lacrosse in southeastern Pennsylvania and beyond,” says longtime local sportswriter Chris Goldberg, the founder and editor of Phillylacrosse.com and a 2023 inductee into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame’s Eastern Pennsylvania chapter. “John Begier was a big part of that success, but the youth program at Radnor has always been strong. It’s become a breeding ground for talented players who’ve remained at Radnor, bucking the trend of attending powerful private schools along the Main Line.”

Enter Friel, a Ridley High School alum, who became Radnor’s athletic director in 2011. From 2012 to 2019, he was an assistant on Begier’s staff, but he hasn’t coached in five years. He’ll retain Mark Petrone, John Sims, Larry Disipio, Mike Podgajny and Cole Yeager—all on staff under Begier.

As a player, Friel started all four years at Cabrini University, tallying 95 goals and 90 assists. For three years, he was an assistant to Cabrini coach Steve Colfer. This past June, Colfer stepped down to take the boys lacrosse post at Episcopal Academy after 26 seasons at Cabrini, where he collected 329 victories, 22 consecutive conference titles, 21 straight NCAA Division III Tournament appearances and a 2019 national title. A few months later, Cabrini’s sale to Villanova University became official. Operations at Cabrini will cease after this school year.

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Over at Radnor, Friel seems to have the players’ trust. “I immediately felt like we were in good hands,” says senior midfielder Nate Lucchesi, who’s committed to the University of Pennsylvania. “He has the energy. He’s easy to approach. He knows the game.”

Begier’s retirement came at an odd time—months after the season ended and on the brink of offseason voluntary workouts, weightlifting and Sunday club games. Savadove notes that there were “definitely rumors over the past three years,” particularly after Begier’s son Chris graduated from the program and went on to play at Bucknell University. “But it was definitely a hit right to the heart,” says Savadove.

Coach Mike Friel
Mike Friel

“I want to give these guys my all. At the end of the season, if my boss says I’ve given too much or I feel I’ve given too much, we’ll start the search process in June.”
—Coach Mike Friel

Those carrying on at Radnor say it was never about winning state titles for Begier. “It was about the process, not the end result,” Savadove insists. “Coach Begier was a role model and mentor, but I see the same in coach Friel. Things are going to run the same way. It’ll be the same deal.”

Each of the past three years, when Radnor won the PIAA title, Friel would “breathe a sigh of relief” when Begier stuck around. When he finally decided to leave, it took him several months to get everything wrapped up. Lucchesi says his former coach wanted to finalize every upperclassman’s college recruiting needs, a responsibility that lingered into the fall.

Despite multiple requests for an interview, Begier elected to leave the talking to the players and the new coach. He did speak to Phillylacrosse.com, but offered only modest remarks. “He always told us, ‘If there was something worth saying about you, someone else would say it,’” says Savadove.

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“We could talk about John Begier for three days,” adds Friel, speaking from a new office that’s part of the district’s $30 million investment in health and wellness education, athletic facilities, and ADA accessibility. “He was the best of the best, and a perfect gentleman. He’d treat the number one player on the field down to the last team manager the same. I can’t get all my coaches to do that—I’m not sure I can do that. He was a guy with absolutely no ego, and the most excited, positive coach on the planet.”

On the lacrosse field, Begier was a 1983 High School All-American and a 2005 Athletic Hall of Fame inductee at the Haverford School. He led the University of Virginia to three consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference championships and an NCAA title game appearance. His 30 career points are believed to be an NCAA record for a defenseman or long-stick midfielder.

Begier liked to credit others for Radnor’s success—especially Peter Samson, the godfather of Radnor youth lacrosse, who died in a bicycle accident just before the 2019 school year. At the time, he was 67 and on Begier’s staff. A lacrosse player at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1970s, Samson established the Katie Samson Foundation to honor his daughter, whose lacrosse success included the Division III national title in 1999 as goalkeeper for Middlebury College. It ended with a 2000 sledding accident that left her paralyzed.

Samson recruited Begier to coach in the youth program. “He was Radnor lacrosse,” says Savadove, who played for Samson in seventh grade. “He’d be so proud of what this has come to today. But that’s what this community is about—building something special and keeping it going. There’s no limit to this.”

This past November, Friends of Radnor Lacrosse dedicated a wall at Radnor Township’s Encke Park in Samson’s memory. Within days, Begier would announce his departure. As for the likelihood of a four-peat for Radnor under Friel, the challenge begins with a competitive Central Athletic League, against the same teams the Raptors encounter again throughout the postseason and tough private PIAA entries like La Salle College High School. Each would love to end Radnor’s reign. “If you conducted a preseason coaches’ poll, not many would put us at the top this year,” Friel says. “But we don’t mind that position.”

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