While she hasn’t decided her course of study or narrowed her options yet, West Morris Mendham High School’s Mariah Salerno has committed to Villanova to continue her playing career when her time as a Minuteman lacrosse player is over.
The decision to join the Wildcats was not a difficult one for the Mendham junior. “I chose Villanova because I thought that was the best fit for me academically and socially,” Salerno said. “I am also incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to play lacrosse there as well, but I think this particular school just has so much to offer for me.”
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It has been a six-year journey for Salerno, who played both softball and soccer growing up, but found LAX when she went to see her brother play.
“It really looked like fun,” Salerno said. “So I thought I would give it a shot.”
That shot led to chance to represent her school as a member of Mendham’s squad.
“It is incredible to play for the MHS team. Girls lacrosse, of GLAX as its often called in our school, is a really successful program since coach [Jessica] Shoulberg took over,” Salerno said. “Last year we finished 26 out of the roughly 3000 teams ranked in the nation. We almost always compete for a group championship, and made it to the state final championship game my freshman year.”
According to Salerno, the team’s success is due in part to the devotion Shoulberg inspires in her troops.
“Coach Shoulberg keeps us all motivated all the time, and has us always working to achieve the goals that we set for ourselves at the beginning of the season,” Salerno said. “Just like us, the coaches all have different personalities, but also like us, they are always pulling in the same direction.”
The Minutemen also prepare by playing a high level of competition each season. This year, the GLAX team has scheduled two games with two of the top ten teams in the nation. And for Salerno, there is no offseason.
“I play on the STEPS Elite travel team in the summer. This team is comprised of girls from all over North Jersey, and some New York. It is really competitive, and we travel to tournaments from Naples, Florida to Boston playing pretty much the best teams in the country,” Salerno said. “The team practices out of Chester, and it is from the STEPS program that most girls are recruited by colleges.”
Mendham’s loss will be Villanova’s gain, as Salerno’s hard work has afforded her the opportunity to do what she loves at the school she chose. But beyond that, playing lacrosse has brought memories one would be hard pressed to find elsewhere.
While she is quick to point out that Mendham’s 2009 victory over Shawnee in states shines as an on-the-field highlight, she's just as excited about the times her team travels to the shore for a pair of tournaments each summer.
“A lot of us stay on LBI for those weekends and we get to hang out together off the field,” she said.
As she prepares for her last two seasons with Mendham, Salerno acknowledges the steady support she has received from her family which has gotten her to this point.
“My family has always been super supportive of me with any sport that I play. They make it to pretty much all of my soccer and lacrosse games,” Salerno said. “Even my brother makes it to a game or two, though not as many games as I went to of his.”