Michelle Arfuso's speed gave the Shawnee senior forward a distinct advantage over opposing defenses this season.
But when she opened the scoring just 17 seconds into the NJSIAA Field Hockey Tournament of Champions final last month at the College of New Jersey - putting the Renegades on track for a 3-0 victory over Oak Knoll - the swiftness of the goal sent the opposing Royals reeling, and even gave Shawnee coach Renee Phelps reason to pause.
"I don't think I've ever seen the start of a game like that," Phelps said. "But then, every time Michelle gets the ball, she's a threat. She was just phenomenal."
Arfuso certainly ratcheted up the Renegades' pace on offense, elevating what was a very good season into a campaign for the record books by scoring in each of Shawnee's last eight games - a span that saw her find the back of the cage a dozen times.
While she finished her senior season with 25 goals, statistics reveal only a portion of the impact Arfuso, The Inquirer's South Jersey Player of the Year, had on her teammates.
As Phelps explained, "Michelle stepped up and said, 'This is my role, to score goals.' She was a real force, a motivator for us, because she was able to work the ball down the field so quickly that it motivated everyone else on our team to get involved in the attack."
Teamwork is an important concept to Arfuso, who plans to continue her career at Villanova.
"We were all motivated by the thought that if we didn't play together as a team, if we didn't work together, we would lose," Arfuso said. "It was such a strong feeling, because none of us wanted it to end. Even after we won [the T of C], it was a weird feeling because we knew that would be our last game together."
Senior center mid Jess Buckingham, another vital component in Shawnee's run to a 23-2 record and the program's 11th state title, has been a teammate of Arfuso's since grade school.
"Michelle is absolutely one of my best friends and she is a great player and great leader, on and off the field," said Buckingham, who is headed to Cornell.
"On the field, she's so quick that I was confident she would get to every 50/50 ball first, she was always in the right place, and her stick skills are awesome. Off the field, she always knew how to encourage us, and the whole team listened to everything she said."
Yet, whenever Arfuso offered direction, her words were always delivered with a smile.
"I told her one day that she's like Donovan McNabb," Phelps recalled with a laugh. "When he smiles, the Eagles win. And when Michelle is smiling, she plays great and everyone around her plays great. Michelle was very good at keeping things light with giggles and laughs. I think that helped loosen everyone up and bring us back to, 'Hey, we're just playing a game here.' "
Arfuso, who is as quick to deflect praise as she is to track down a loose ball in the circle, will smile every time she reflects on the Renegades' magical season.
"I really love this sport, and the way the season ended felt amazing," she said. "In the beginning of the year, we said, 'We're going to win it all,' because we thought that would be cool. But when it actually started happening, we were like, 'Oh my gosh, we're really doing it.' "