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Stars figure to light way for Shaler lacrosse this season

| Monday, March 31, 2014, 9:39 p.m.
Louis Raggiunti | Tribune-Review
Nellie Phillips is a senior center for the Shaler girls lacrosse team.
Louis Raggiunti | Tribune-Review
Senior defender Morgan Burke is a returning starter for Shaler.

Shaler coach Jennifer Perestock has found success in the adage of quality over quantity.

“Cream of the crop, but small in numbers basically describes our team,” Perestock said.

The defending WPIAL Division II girls lacrosse champs have only three seniors on the roster, but two of them — Nellie Phillips and Morgan Burke — were All-WPIAL selections last season.

They are joined by junior midfielder and top scorer Shannon Lynch, who also was named to the All-WPIAL team as a sophomore, making Shaler the only team to return more than one All-WPIAL player.

The surprise of the season so far has been the nine freshmen who made the varsity roster, with five in the starting lineup.

Although Perestock lost several players in the offseason — including a few who elected not to play their senior season — allowing so many freshmen onto the squad was far from a panicked decision.

“The freshmen who are on varsity belong there. They definitely earned their time,” Perestock said. “They kind of perfectly replaced my seniors who graduated last year.”

With the newcomers in place, the Titans had such a wealth of talent in the midfield that players were being shuffled all over the field. Burke was also moved up to the midfield from defense, allowing her to impact the entire field of play.

“It was hard for me even to start the season,” Perestock said, “because with so many new kids at once — trying to place them everywhere — it's a lot of trial and error.”

Shaler started the season with wins over Bethel Park and Moon before dropping its most recent game 13-8 on Saturday against Chartiers Valley.

The rematch of last season's 15-14 WPIAL final evidenced the of work that still needs to be done for Shaler to regain its championship form from a year ago.

But the Titans aren't worried about that.

“I think we're just going to continue to step up throughout the year. It's bound to happen,” Perestock said. “The talent is all there in every spot. As the year goes by we're going to get stronger and stronger as the freshmen get more confident and used to varsity play.”

Peters Township, the reigning Division I champ, has faced similar growing pains, albeit with a fairly different roster.

The Indians have no freshmen and just four juniors. Despite having nine seniors, less than half the team is returning from last year's championship squad, coach Kristen Slemmer said.

“We've been trying not to focus so much on the past and get caught up in our reputation,” Slemmer said. “We're trying to focus on being a new team and starting our own legacy.”

Captains Allison Hurley, Gina Vilsack, Lizzie Hill and Rachel Windmueller are leading the way in building that legacy.

The team is focusing on mental toughness, hustle and teamwork, and how those elements can be implemented in every game.

“The girls are not as confident as they have been, but I see that already starting to grow,” Slemmer said. “All around, it's just a younger team than we've had in the past.”

In their first game this year against Pine-Richland, the Indians trailed 4-0 within the first eight minutes of the game.

Behind its senior leadership, Peters Township overcame the deficit to win 11-8.

“I think it was just a whole change of their mental toughness and believing in themselves, when at first they weren't as confident,” Slemmer said.

Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at ghorvath@tribweb.com.

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