When the 2014 girls high school lacrosse season began, Shaler Area High School coach Jennifer Perestock knew that her Titans would have their work cut out for them on the heels of capturing the 2013 WPIAL Division 2 championship.
So far, she likes what she has seen.
After its victory at North Hills on Monday, Perestock has seen a lineup that features six freshmen vanquish 13 of its first 14 opponents and heads into the final two weeks of the regular season as the No. 4-ranked team in Western Pennsylvania regardless of classification, according to Laxpower.com.
The teams ranked ahead of the Titans are two unbeaten Division 1 teams -- Mt. Lebanon (14-0) and Quaker Valley (14-0). Another Division 2 team, Chartiers Valley (11-1), is ranked No. 3.
"The team has put in a lot of hard work since the beginning of the season," Perestock said. "We knew there was a lot of talent in the freshman class, but there was a lot of work to be done."
Along with those talented young players, the Titans have benefited from some quality leadership from some of the team's more experienced players.
At the top of the list is Nellie Phillips, a senior from Shaler Township, who had scored 189 goals in her four-year career heading into Monday's game with North Hills.
"We have just three seniors on this year's team," said Phillips, who will play lacrosse at Seton Hill and major in sports management. "Our younger players had some big shoes to fill, and they have worked very hard to fill them."
Other top contributors are junior attack Shannon Lynch, who has scored 50 goals this season, junior defender Steph Fleming and Kaylee Coyle, a junior who is her first season as a starter in goal.
"Shannon plays well all over the field," Perestock said. "She moves the ball down the field and is the key to our offense."
Fleming, also a captain, has created a lot of turnovers and also has gotten involved with scoring some goals. Coyle has been a big factor in the Titans' defense. She's held opponents to four goals or fewer in six of the Titans' victories.
"She has good lateral movement, and has worked very hard to accomplish that," Perestock said. "She does a great job in communicating with our defense."
Phillips is chief among the five Titans captains. She believes that the team's 15-11 victory against Division 1 rival Seton-LaSalle on April 23 fueled the team's confidence heading into the regular season's stretch run.
"That was a good indicator that we could hold our own against good teams," she said. "Our midfield, defense and offense all work together, and we can all play each other's positions."
Phillips said that confidence comes from Perestock's leadership.
"We're all on the same page, and she knows our strengths and weaknesses," Philips said. "We've done a good job of passing the ball around, and things have just clicked."
A year ago, Shaler won the WPIAL Division 2 championship defeating Chartiers Valley, 15-14, in a wild game that was twice delayed by rain. Earlier this season, the Colts gained some measure of revenge with a 13-8 victory over the visiting Titans on March 29.
"We'd love to play them again," Perestock said. "That game was early in the season, and we were still working on some things. We needed to step things up, and since that game, we have."
That possible matchup with the Colts could be a rematch of last year's championship game. The big difference is the venue for the game.
This year's championship games will be moved away from high school venues and played at Highmark Stadium, which is adjacent to Station Square. The girls Division 1 and Division 2 championship games will be played on May 22. The boys games will take place at the same site on May 23..
Perestock is pleased with this development.
"I think it's great to see lacrosse moving in a positive direction," she said. "To see the sport's growth in the Pittsburgh area is a great thing."