When Sebastian Berger decided to stop playing football at Monticello after his freshman year, his father made it clear that the energy and effort Berger had been putting into football should go somewhere.
“He was like, if you’re not gonna play football anymore you need to really dedicate your time to one sport and I want to see you really excel in it,” Berger said.
Berger received the message loud and clear. He excelled in his chosen pursuit, earning second team All-Region 4A honors for Monticello boys lacrosse. Over three years, he became one of the Mustangs’ top defenders in program history.
“He’s been the best lockdown close defender I’ve ever coached — we always put him on the team’s number one offensive threat,” Tapscott said. “He’s been a cornerstone of the program since he arrived as an eighth grader.”
Berger managed to earn that distinction from Tapscott while losing the man who’d encouraged him to ramp up his dedication to lacrosse when his father Dr. Conney Berger passed away after a battle with pancreatic cancer in the fall of 2017. Berger was a scientist, a toxicologist and a former Lehigh football player who loved watching his sons Sebastian and Conney Berger, III compete.
“He was in a wheelchair towards the end of his time and he was still making every game my sophomore year no matter what,” Berger said. “It really meant a lot to me to know that he was going through that, but still had time to come to his own kid’s game when he wasn’t feeling his best.”
Like the rest of the class of 2020, Berger, who started for the Mustangs as a freshman, lost his senior campaign to the COVID-19 pandemic cancellations. It was poised to be an excellent one for Monticello. With Berger and Cooper Hauser anchoring the defense, the Mustangs also had an electric offensive senior group back in Bailey Hauser, Hanley Hauser, Buddy Wilson and Ethan Young, four players who notched 30 or more points each a year ago. That group had some fuel too after losing by just a single goal in the Region 4A semifinals to Midlothian, finishing a single goal away from what would have been the program’s first state tournament berth.
“I feel like we definitely would have had their number this year,” Berger said. “With the number of seniors that we had this year returning — we had 10 plus, I think 12, maybe 13 seniors. Experienced players who understand the game.”
The Mustangs reached the region semifinals in 2018 and 2019 and getting over that stumbling block definitely would have been possible with that seasoned roster. Berger would’ve been a big part of that after two years of notching 48 and 42 ground balls from his spot on defense, but instead the National and Latin Honor society member is focusing on joining his older brother at Virginia Commonwealth University this fall where he’s planning to pursue psychology.
“It’s hard not to be selfish and be like why is my lacrosse season canceled?,” Berger said. “But once the virus started getting bigger and bigger I was like, you know what? Maybe this is for the best, of course health comes first.”
Berger’s father’s death in 2017 put more of the onus of taking care of the family on his mother Aimee. She’s risen to the occasion while also serving as Monticello lacrosse’s team mom. She’s been securing pregame sandwiches and postgame pizzas for the Mustangs while managing the day to day of being a mother to two young men.
“She’s going above and beyond just to really keep her kids living the lives that they should be,” Berger said. “She’s been — I can’t even explain to you how much she’s done to really keep our family as a unit and keep us together.”
Obviously with his mother balancing working, providing and raising two sons on her own, there have been some logistical challenges. In one situation, she had to leave for a trip during the season, so true to form for Tapscott, he had Berger move in for a week. Berger temporarily joined the already burgeoning Tapscott brood with Tapscott’s wife Ruth and four young children.
“It was so cool to just have Bash at the house with my four little ones — they know he’s part of the family,” Tapscott said. “I genuinely love Sebastian with all my heart.”
Staying with his coach for a short time may have been very different for Berger — and in his words a lot of fun — but the level of trust he has with Tapscott is evident. They’ve got a particularly tight bond forged over years.
“He’s honestly taken that father kind of role to me on the field basically,” Berger said. “I mean any questions that I have, he’s always there to answer them.”
Berger is emblematic of a Monticello lacrosse program that doesn’t have the same pedigree and historic success as other local squads, that has to fight and scrap and claw for everything they earn. Berger has fought and scrapped and clawed his way to success on the field no matter what life has thrown at him.
“He’ll be a leader in whatever profession he chooses,” Tapscott said. “He’s the epitome of sportsmanship and outside of lacrosse I just can’t wait to see the man he becomes.”
Whether it was lining up with Daniel Hummel early in his career, the Hauser brothers the entire time he was there or other key players like Jake Huffman or Tyler Brown or Ben Landers or Ben Drake or Danny Talbert, he has a bond with everyone in the program.
“That’s one aspect of lacrosse I’ve always loved,” Berger said. “Like once you start, once you get the group of guys together and stick together you kind of roll with that throughout the year. And that’s a big — I feel like that’s a big part of lacrosse that’s misunderstood a little bit, the brotherhood.”
That brotherhood has helped Berger through some difficult times. It has been a rock for him as he dealt with challenges. It has helped lift him to where he’s headed and it has helped him learn what happens when he redirects hard work, effort and energy like his father suggested years ago.
He’s learned the results are pretty special.