May 29, 2019

Marciano Sparks Rally for PHS Girls’ Lax As Tigers Win 2nd Straight Sectional Title

RALLY TIME: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse player Shaylah Marciano runs past a Howell High defender last week in the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional semis. Junior star Marciano tallied three goals and two assists as top-seeded PHS defeated fourth-seeded Howell 21-4 in the May 21 contest. Last Friday, Marciano had three goals and an assist as PHS rallied from a 4-2 halftime deficit to defeat second-seeded Rancocas Valley 10-5 in the sectional final. The Tigers, now 18-2, will face South sectional champion Eastern (17-3) in the Group 4 semis on May 29 at Moorestown with the victor advancing to the title game on June 1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Even though the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team trailed Rancocas Valley 4-2 at halftime of the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional final last Friday, Shaylah Marciano had no doubts that PHS could rally for victory.

“I knew we had in it us to come back,” said Tiger junior star midfielder Marciano. “We knew if we put the foot on the pedal, we just would be able to keep it going.”

That confidence was also based on experience as PHS had overcome an 8-4 deficit against Rancocas Valley in last year’s sectional final to pull out a 9-8 win, sparked by Mariana Lopez-Ona dominating the draw control.

Using the same formula last Friday, PHS seized momentum as senior star and Michigan-bound Lopez-Ona snatched up draw after draw.

“Mariana’s ability to place it and find the opening for us to be able to win it is absolutely remarkable,” said Marciano, who is also headed to Michigan.

“She knows exactly what to do to let her team win it. It has been super important for all of these games in terms of winning. It really changed the momentum of the game today, being able to win the draw.”

Capitalizing on the stellar work of Lopez-Ona in the circle, Marciano enjoyed a feeling of deja vu as she sparked another really against Rancocas Valley. After a goal by PHS freshman star Kate Becker to narrow the gap to 4-3 with 21:15 reaming in the second half, Marciano found the back of the net two minutes later to make it 4-4.

“After that goal, we know ‘hey we are in this and we just need to keep pushing,’” said Marciano. “That is what we did and we didn’t stop.”

The Tigers didn’t stop, finishing the game with a 6-1 run to  pull away to a 10-5 win, improving to 18-2 and earning a spot in the state Group 4 semis where they will face South sectional champions Eastern (17-3) at Moorestown on May 29 with the victor advancing to the title game on June 1.

In reflecting on the second half outburst by the Tigers, Marciano pointed to the squad’s balanced offense.

“Everyone is a threat on attack and that is what is so great about it this year,” said Marciano, who ended up with three goals and an assist in the win with Lopez-Ona getting three goals and Becker chipping in two. “Anyone can pass, shoot, or feed. We are able to capitalize  because everyone is able to do everything.”

It was great feeling for PHS to earn a second straight sectional crown.

“It is incredible; we wanted to do it for our seniors, they have been such great leaders the entire season,” said Marciano. “Winning this again is a dream come true.”

While attack came alive down the stretch against Rancocas Valley, the defense was a constant for the Tigers in the win.

“I think our defense gets better everyday,” said Marciano. “Lila [Doran] is approaching almost 100 caused turnovers. Her ability to play defense leads them. Gigi [Peloso] has been playing absolutely phenomenal in goal. She was the one that turned the momentum and kept us in the game. We wouldn’t be here it if it wasn’t for her.”

PHS head coach Meg Reilly was confident that her players could seize momentum in the second half just as they had in the 2018 sectional final.

“The message at half time was to have everyone realize that this is exactly where we were last year,” said first-year coach Reilly, who was an assistant last year. “We just have to play out game and we have to slow the ball down.”

Showing patience in the second half, PHS was able to wear down the Red Devils.

“We got our long possessions so we were able to play that selfless attack where we use everybody,” said Reilly. “Once we started that, we got it.”

Meanwhile, the one-two punch of Lopez-Ona and Marciano helped trigger the attack.

“Mariana has worked so hard on draw; she works harder than anybody and is prepared for any draw,” said Reilly.

“Shaylah pulls the momentum. When Shaylah is on, the whole team is on. She has so much heart and fire as a player.”

The PHS defensive unit displayed heart, stifling Rancocas Valley in the second half as the Red Devils could manage only one goal over the last 25 minutes of the contest.

“Our defense communicated so well, they forced every single person out all the way out of the play,” said Reilly, noting that junior Lauren Rougas and senior Olivia Intartaglia combined to help shut down Rancocas Valley star Sydney Sventy after she scored four goals in the first half.

“Gigi [Peloso] was so composed in goal, especially for a freshman. She was fearless, her clears were on fire. It was just impeccable defense.”

In Reilly’s view, the second straight sectional crown is a tribute to the team’s appetite for work and improvement.

“It is amazing; the girls have worked so hard,” said Reilly. “They know each other’s strengths even better, they set each other up better. The more time we have together, the better we get. These six seniors (Serena Bolitho, Kathryn DeMilt, Megan Mavoides, Morgan Mavoides, Intartaglia, and Lopez-Ona) are so special, I never want this season to end.”

Marciano, for her part, believes that PHS has the strength to keep going in the Group 4 final four.

“We play our best when we play our lacrosse,” said Marciano, referring to the team’s multi-pronged attack.

“It is much prettier to watch and it is so much smoother when we play our game.