Chris Sabia lets out a knowing laugh before the question even ends.
No, Sabia didn’t see this path on his own through lacrosse when he stood out at Haverford School: helping Penn State rise to national prominence and making a Final Four, then launching into the game. third year of a professional career, in a league that did not yet exist. For a player who might not even be his team’s most recruited defenseman in high school, Sabia’s constant improvement has seen him thrive far beyond so many of his peers.
“Look, if you’d told me something like that, I would have told you you were crazy,” Sabia said over the phone this week. “I have never seen anything like this happen. I was just lucky enough to get a chance from Coach Jeff (Tambroni) and the staff at Penn State. And it’s funny, we joke about it a little bit every now and then to see what it turned out to be, but I never thought it was going to happen or that it was on the horizon. But man, has this been an amazing trip, and I’m trying to soak up all I can. “
The next adventure in Sabia’s journey brings the Harleysville native close to home: Sunday’s Premier Lacrosse League semi-final at Subaru Park in Chester. Atlas, the No. 2 seed, will face Chaos No. 6 in Game 1 at 11 a.m. Both games are on NBCSN and can be streamed on Peacock.
The winners advance to the final on September 19 at Audi Field in Washington DC The PLL held its inaugural final at the then Talen Energy Stadium, attracting more than 10,000 spectators.
Sabia’s penultimate high school game took place on this pitch, for a legendary and undefeated Haverford School team that won the Inter-Ac Invitational Championship against the New Jersey Hun School.
It was the last time Atlas midfielder Dox Aitken ventured under the Commodore Barry Bridge. The 2016 Daily Times Boys Lacrosse Player of the Year has done a lot since, with two national titles for the University of Virginia, most notably at Lincoln Financial Field in 2019.
But the COVID-19 pandemic gave Aitken a particular roller coaster ride, nullifying his true senior season and his AVU title defense, after which he had played to take a fifth year of degree transfer at Villanova for playing football… a sport in which he also won All-Delco honors. The postponement of the Nova season from last fall canceled that plan, sending him back to Charlottesville to help the Cavaliers repeat in 2021.
Having the option of the PLL, where Aitken’s frightening natural skills and charisma on the pitch made him an unmissable fit, the post-college looming was a consolation through the moguls.
“I always hoped it would be there,” he said. “Obviously it’s something you have to earn, and if you’re out of the sport for a while you never know what might happen. But I really knew after the football experience it would be something I would look to do and knowing that at some point I was able to be on par with the guys who had been drafted into the league. … It calmed me down knowing that this was an opportunity I could try to experience.
Sabia and Aitken balance their lacrosse careers with a full-time job in finance and sales respectively. The eight-team PLL clubs have played nine regular-season games this season, with a barnstorming pattern going from town to town, as well as the playoffs.
Sabia, who will be home to around 100 family and friends, said the vibe this week was similar to the 2019 Final Four in Philly. As he has done at every stage of his career, Sabia has grown as a player since then, with his characteristic blue collar work ethic. He did so as the Waterdogs expansion draft pick ahead of the 2020 season, growing up with the squad’s young body.
With the reputation of the Whipsnakes, led by La Salle graduate Matt Rambo ahead of them, Sabia and her teammates keep the challenge in perspective.
“I think I am growing every year,” he said. “And I think there’s a lot more that I would still love to accomplish and see myself do, but more importantly, it’s about winning these games and hopefully winning this championship, so it’s where the focus is right now. “
What is not lost on Sabia or Aitken is the network of former Fords in the league. That includes Grant Ament, whose archers haven’t made the last four, but who has carved a unique mark for himself as a full-time lacrosse pro.
Each player’s journey is a little different. But the fact that they can fly to a different city every weekend in the summer and see guys they’ve known since they were young… it doesn’t get old.
“It’s cool to meet these guys when we’re these weekends in the PLL,” Aitken said. “We play all cool, but we went to the same high school. It’s pretty crazy to think that we are all here, competing on television and in the professional ranks. It’s really cool.”