By Phil Anastasia
Inquirer Staff Writer
Lenape girls' lacrosse coach Jill McCarthy says she can always count on senior stars Natalie Peel and Shannon Gallagher.
They're dependable. They're reliable. They're the Alpha and Omega of team's offense and defense.
"They provide a sense of calm and leadership at both ends of the field," McCarthy said.
Peel, who scored seven goals in Thursday's 17-7 victory over Rancocas Valley in the season opener for both teams, is the spark of the Indians' attack.
Gallagher, a defender, anchors the team's backline.
"One is rock-solid on defense and the other is the quarterback on offense," McCarthy said.
Peel and Gallagher are more than just standout 12th-graders for the defending Group 4 state champions.
They also are partners on a planned adventure that will take them around 2,500 miles across the country to continue their education and lacrosse careers.
"Lots of players go to college together, but it's usually to someplace close like Rutgers," Peel said. "Not us."
Said Gallagher: "We're going all the way across the country."
Peel and Gallagher have signed to play for San Diego State on lacrosse scholarships. They will join Washington Township graduate Katie Gill, a redshirt junior attack for the Aztecs, in bringing some South Jersey flavor to the southern California team.
"It's crazy," Peel said. "I never thought I would go that far away to play, never even thought about San Diego.
"But once I visited it . . . once you go to San Diego, I don't know how you leave."
Women's lacrosse became a collegiate sport at San Diego State in 2012. The Aztecs recruit heavily on the East Coast and have 11 players from Maryland, New York and New Jersey on the roster.
"They come East for games every year during the season and in the fall season too," Peel said. "We'll be seeing our parents a lot."
Both players showcased their skills on a warm, damp afternoon on the turf field in Mt. Laurel.
The speedy Peel had a hat trick by halftime as the Indians took an 8-3 lead. The sturdy Gallagher was part of a defensive effort that limited the Red Devils' scoring opportunities.
"They are like two coaches on the field for us," McCarthy said.
Gallagher committed first to the Aztecs. She said she attended a camp at San Diego State one summer during high school when her father was in California on business.
"I didn't know where I wanted to go," Gallagher said. "I was looking in Florida, looking at Wagner (on Staten Island), looking at San Diego. I was all over the field.
"I just loved it out there. It's so great. The people are awesome."
Peel made her decision a few months after Gallagher. Peel said she wasn't necessarily looking to go to college in California and that neither she nor Gallagher had planned to attend the same school.
But once she visited the campus, she knew she would be going away with an old teammate and friend.
"She was the first person I texted," Peel said.
Gallagher remembers hearing from her high school teammate.
"I didn't get it at first when she said we would be spending the next four years together," Gallagher said. "I was so shocked. I was like, 'Oh my god, I can't believe it.'"
Rancocas Valley 3 4 -- 7
Lenape 8 9 -- 17
Goals: RV-Mekayla Montgomery 3, Mekenzie Montgomery, Peyton Sventy, Abby O'Neill; L-Natalie Peel 7, Gabrielle Fornia 3, Carlee Braverman 3, Kaity McKenna 3, Kasey Donoghue.
Saves: RV-Aimee Uibel 3; L-Rebecca Wilen 5.
-- Contact Phil Anastasia at email@example.com