Shaler Area coach Jennifer Perestock believes four years of hard work are beginning to pay off handsomely as the Titans enter as the top seed in the 2013 WPIAL Division II Girls Lacrosse Tournament.
"I started at Shaler in 2010, and this senior class is the first class that I've worked with for all four years," Perestock said. "They are just a phenomenal group."
The top-ranked Division II team in the Post-Gazette's rankings and No. 6 among all girls teams in Western Pennsylvania according to Laxpower.com, the Titans begin tournament play at 4 p.m. today at home against Bethel Park, which edged North Hills, 11-10, Tuesday in a first-round game.
Shaler defeated Bethel Park, 18-7, in the second game of the season, and the Titans rolled to two victories against North Hills, the two-time defending Division II champion and section rival, by scores of 17-10 and 16-0.
The only team to vanquish the 15-1 Titans this season was perennial Division I power North Allegheny, which just missed qualifying for the tournament. The Tigers defeated the Titans, 11-7, on April 6.
Shaler is averaging 16.12 goals per game and has scored 20 or more goals three times. The Titans are yielding 6.25 goals a game with one shutout.
Perestock hopes North Allegheny and other Division I programs will be a part of the Titans' regular-season schedule in years to come. Her brother, Randy Burns, coaches the Hampton boys team that just moved up to Division I this season and qualified for the playoffs in its first season at that level.
"We're hoping to be able to move up to Division I in 2015," Perestock said. "We want to push this program and push our girls."
For now, though, the Titans are presenting problems for their Division II foes as this team has plenty of talent and balance scattered throughout the lineup.
Shaler's top scorer is sophomore midfielder Shannon Lynch, who has 74 goals and 14 assists. Senior attack Courtney Ambrozic is right behind her with 72 goals and 10 assists.
"Shannon is a strong player and a great all-around midfielder," the coach said. "She plays hard and has a lot of good moves and practices a lot on her own."
Ambrozic has the knack for being in the right place at the right time, and Perestock believes her height has something to do with that.
"Courtney is 5-11, so she can see over some of the defenders," she said. "She finds a way to move through the other team's defense, finds an opening and goes to the net."
Junior center Nellie Phillips also has been a big key to the Titans' success.
"Nellie has scored 55 goals and has 18 assists," Perestock said. "She rules the field and runs the team."
It's not often that a junior is named a captain on a team, but Perestock said Phillips has earned the honor.
"She takes all of our draws and sets our offenses," she said. "She's a fast kid who moves the offense well, and she's also a very smart defender."
Perestock said the beauty of this team's offense is that it's designed for multiple players to be a factor.
"Our top three scorers also have a lot of assists," she said. "The other four attackers are all up in scoring, and all of them are crucial to our success."
Besides balance, a key ingredient for the Titans is intelligence.
"These are smart kids," Perestock said. "A lot of them are academic All-Americans, and they were able to pick up a lot of the new things we installed in our offense. We wouldn't have been able to do that if these girls weren't as intelligent as they are."
A year ago, attack Ambrozic and midfielders Kristel Chatellier and Andra Labanc earned U.S. Lacrosse Academic All-America honors as juniors.
The Titans tuned up for the tournament with a 15-2 victory against Latrobe, which also is competing in the Division II tournament.
"We're as ready as we can be," Perestock said. "Our team is well-prepared, and we are confident. We believe that being prepared is the key to winning, and this team is prepared. They are pumped and ready, and I want them to go for the net."