VOORHEES – After it was over, the girls on the Eastern High School lacrosse team all sprinted in the same direction.
Starters and subs alike made a dash to offer congratulations to the team’s sophomore goalie Kelli McGroarty.
A field player as a freshman last season, McGroarty has stepped into a new role for this campaign, and her debut was a rousing success.
She stopped 13 shots, many of them coming on difficult chances, as the Vikings opened their season with an 11-5 win over Shawnee Wednesday in an Olympic Conference American Division game.
“It was pretty exciting, hopping in the net for the first time except scrimmages,” McGroarty said. “I was anxious to see how the game would turn out, and it turned out in our favor, luckily.”
Tori Accardo supported McGroarty with three goals, while Savannah Slack and Danielle Mlkvy chipped in with two goals each.
Together, the offset four goals scored for Shawnee by Erica Barr.
Eastern coach Katie Lee made the decision to go with McGroarty because of the need to replace an all-star caliber player in Cooper Cowdin who graduated last season.
Two sister prospects who were being look upon to fill the position moved, leaving a hole on the field.
“After our backups moved to California, we were looking for somebody to fill the role,” Lee said. “Kelli came to me, and said, `If you need me, I’ll be a goalie. So we made her a goalie.”
The coach was optimistic that McGroarty could play the position, just based on her pure overall athletic skills.
Though still a young player, McGroarty is already a fixture on the school’s soccer team, coached by her father Jamie, and she’s a starting point guard on the basketball team.
“She’s one of the most athletic kids I’ve ever met,” Lee said. “She works hard. She’s constantly putting in the effort she needs to do and she came up big for us today.”
McGroarty confirmed Lee’s story that she volunteered to play goalie, even though her experience has been limited at best.
She recalled “a time in the olden days” when she first tried to play the position on a youth league team.
“I was maybe 8 years old, and I kind of thought the pads were cool,” McGroarty said. “I played for maybe a season, but I would only play a half in the games, or maybe no games. But, for now, I’m trading in the skirt for a helmet and pads.”
Now Lee thinks McGroarty’s background as a midfielder-forward can only help in her transition to goalie.
In several instances, for example, McGroarty seemed comfortable holding the ball for long periods of time, dodging and weaving, while looking to make an open pass.
Other times she came out of the net, passing the ball far down the field in order to get the break going on the offensive end.
“She’s like having another defender,” Lee said. “You can use that to your advantage. With her being as athletic as she is, with the stick skills she has, we can do things that teams haven’t seen yet.”
Perhaps McGroarty was bolstered by the fact that her team got off to a quick 3-0 lead as Slack scored two of the goals.
After Barr pulled the Renegades to within 3-1, Accardo scored the second of her goals and Eastern went into the half holding a 5-1 lead.
Barr breathed some life into Shawnee by scoring three of the first four goals in the second half to bring her team to within 6-4, but the Renegades got no closer.
Mlkvy scored both of her goals to keep the Vikings on top and Accardo scored her third goal late in the game to cap the effort.
Shawnee 1 4 -5
Eastern 5 6- 11
Sh: Erica Barr 4, Jenna Mesisca.
Ea: Savannah Slack 2, Tori Accardo 3, Danielle Mlvky 2, Marissa Robbins, Madison Condon, Amanda Farnsworth, Jenna Casole.