Spotlight on: Moorestown junior Marie McCool

At last season's end-of-year banquet, Steph Toy handed Marie McCool a gift bag with a handwritten note inside.

"I opened it, and the note said that it was my turn to lead this team," McCool said. "It said that she was handing me down the No. 51."

The Moorestown girls' lacrosse program is steeped in numerous, often quirky traditions.

They have songs and chants and slogans, and they make videos and shirts - all with some kind of deep-rooted meaning, all part of the singular experience of being part of the Moorestown team.

"I played here in the 1980s, and some of the songs they sing now are the same ones we sang when I was playing," coach Deanna Knobloch said. "So tradition is a huge part of our program. This is a family affair. That's what makes this whole thing so special."

The No. 51 is perhaps the most glaring of those traditions.

It started when all-American Rowan Smith handed the number to future all-American Kelly Darling in 2000, "just because they thought it was a cool number," Knobloch said.

Since then, it has been passed down from one great player to the next - worn by some of the country's top girls' lacrosse talent.

Toy, who now plays for Notre Dame, was last year's Inquirer Player of the Year in South Jersey girls' lacrosse. She netted 252 career goals. She wore 51. And she chose McCool to carry on the legacy.

"It's a total honor to wear this number," said McCool, who earned No. 51 largely by netting 84 goals last season as a sophomore. "I do feel like I have to live up to the expectations of being No. 51, but it's just made me want to work harder and harder."

McCool is arguably the best pure lacrosse player in the state. She is strong on offense and defense. She has speed and stamina and enough quickness to beat just about any player one-on-one.

"She's phenomenal," Knobloch said. "Players like her don't come around very often.

"We're very lucky to have her. And she's very lucky to have such a strong supporting cast this year."

This year's Quakers are as deep and well-rounded as any Moorestown team in recent memory. That has relieved some of the unavoidable pressure McCool has faced with her new number.

The junior midfielder is, once again, thriving on the field. She has 49 goals, 20 assists, and 24 ground balls for the 16-0 Quakers, ranked No. 1 in South Jersey by The Inquirer.

"I've been trying to become more of a leader," McCool said. "Last year, as an underclassman, I was quiet on the field. But this year, I want to be one of the players who helps lead this team to the [Tournament of Champions title].

"And I just try to do my best in all aspects of the game."

   - Chris Melchiorre