To some, Moorestown goalie Bridget Bianco is an intimidating presence: face smeared in a mask of eye black, standing no higher than 5-foot-3 but the embodiment of a scrappy, hard-nosed athlete.

To others, she's the team clown, a shoulder to lean on, a leader in every sense of the word.

Most see all of those things in the senior Northwestern recruit, and that's just fine with her.

"When it comes to sport, yes, I do consider myself a very aggressive person," Bianco said. "I don't like to lose. But really, that's not who I am off the field."

Bianco has been one of the most highly regarded college lacrosse recruits in the country since her freshman year. She has amassed more than 400 career saves and been part of two Tournament of Champions title teams.

Moorestown coach Deanna Knobloch unabashedly refers to Bianco as "the best high school goalie I've ever seen."

In Knobloch's 20 years at the Moorestown helm, the Quakers have surely been one of the top high school girls' lacrosse programs in the nation - if not the top.

Knobloch has seen the best players in the country come and go. But when it comes to Bianco, the coach is beside herself.

Ask her why, and she seems to trip up. Not because she can't find a reason, but because so many pop into her head all at once.

"It's everything," Knobloch said. "It's just everything."

The early days

Danny and Tracey Bianco didn't know much about lacrosse.

But when their daughter Bridget raised her hand and volunteered to play goalie in fifth grade, they had reservations.

At first they worried about the physical dangers of playing the position. But they quickly changed to concerns over things such as shattered confidence and a fear that their daughter "would lose her love for the game."

"There wasn't much competition around, so her team was playing up; she was playing against sixth and seventh graders," Danny Bianco said. "And they were getting beat, 19-3, 20-3, just really shelled.

"And it was tough to watch her be so upset, letting the goals in. It broke our heart to watch her suffer through those early days. But, to her credit, she stuck with it."

Quitting simply didn't occur to Bridget. While Danny Bianco worried that his daughter might give up the sport out of frustration, Bridget Bianco's hunger for lacrosse became even stronger.

She just kept working, she just wanted to win, and she just kept getting better.

"I really started to fall in love with playing goalie," said Bridget Bianco, who describes her parents as the most supportive people in her life.

Within a year, Bianco's game and reputation were blossoming. Everybody knew who she was; everybody could see where she was headed.

And it wasn't necessarily about her technical skill, but rather her scrappy, raw tenacity and athleticism.

Bianco was constantly sprinting out of goal, fighting for loose balls. And, even at an early age, she never had reservations about stepping in front of any shot that came her way.

"She could have played goalie for us when she was in middle school," Knobloch said. "I mean, we knew she was going to be a star. There was no question about it."

As it is today, the enormous praise was like background noise to Bianco.

"I just go into every game and every practice worried about myself and my team," she said. "It's not about outplaying the other goalie or anything like that. It's just about doing well for my team and winning games."

Photographic memory

Bianco describes herself as a relentlessly self-critical player. So, not surprisingly, when assessing herself as a goalie, she quickly points to what she considers one of her biggest weaknesses.

"My biggest problem is my patience," she said. "If a goal goes in and I think I could have saved it, I will definitely go back, and I'll be watching it in my head as the next draw comes.

"I'll be thinking of how, in case that happens again, I can step a different way or do something different. And I'll just be so anxious to make up for it right away."

One image Bianco concedes will likely be with her forever is the final moment of the 2010 season - a go-ahead goal by Shawnee's Kristen Kocher with 12 seconds left in regulation of the South Jersey Group 3 final.

The goal halted the Quakers' 10-year in-state winning streak at 228 games.

"I remember Kristen Kocher's shot - vividly," Bianco said. "I remember the way I stepped, everything. It's the kind of thing that sticks in the back of your mind. I'll remember it forever."

Unlike most of her teammates, Bianco didn't shed a tear after the devastating loss.

"It's funny because everyone was coming up to me and asking me if I was OK because I didn't cry," Bianco said. "I was angry. It kind of fired me [up]. It's been that chip on my shoulder.

"And it definitely fueled me coming into this season. It fueled what I hope to accomplish in June."

Just as when she was younger, the hard times make Bianco want to improve every day. Part of the thrill of playing sports, Bianco says, is overcoming adversity and injury.

She wears a special helmet and mouth guard since she overcame two serious concussions.

Bianco even suffered a stress fracture in her shin before her senior season. Though the injury is still an issue at times, Bianco boasts that it hasn't kept her out of a game.

Lasting legacy

"Bridget is unlike any other goalie we've ever faced," Clearview coach Megan Conklin said. "She's so quick, she has a great eye on the ball, she anticipates, and her timing is so precise.

"Playing against her changes our approach. You think twice before you take a shot."

As much as Bianco will be remembered for her prowess on the field, her coach and teammates will remember her for her levity off it.

"The fun that she brings to this team, her exuberance off the field, and how she makes me laugh is amazing," Knobloch said. "But on the field, intensity is what she's all about. She's as focused as any player I've been around."

Bianco is leaning toward becoming a schoolteacher and coaching lacrosse. Before she heads to Northwestern, she hopes, in this final month of the season, as the postseason heats up, to add one more chapter to a storied career.

"I just hope to be remembered as a leader, as someone who works hard every day, wants to win, and wants the best for her team," Bianco said. "But just as important, I hope I'm seen as someone who was all about that togetherness, and the family aspect of this team."

Contact Chris Melchiorre