Goalie closes WW-P South career at national lax showcase
By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
When Bryan Fisher flipped on ESPN 3 on Tuesday, the West Windsor-Plainsboro High South girls lacrosse head coach didn’t have to wait long.
There was No. 30 Katelyn Salerno, starting at goalie for Team Freedom in the Champion All-American Showcase championship game from the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
”I’m watching ESPN 3, saying, that’s the girl I coached for four years,” Fisher said. “I’m talking to Bob Henderson, her goalie coach her whole life. It’s a pretty neat story. The final was on ESPN 3, so I got to see that.”
The thrills were even greater for Salerno, who is believed to be the first Pirates player to participate in the game.
”It definitely does mean a lot to me,” Salerno said. “I want to represent my school and area well, and I think I did.”
Salerno split time in goal each game, and helped Team Freedom go unbeaten in four games to win the showcase. She got things started in the title game for Team Freedom with a quick outlet pass that led to their first goal on their way to a 16-13 win over Team Liberty. By the time she left at halftime, Salerno had helped Team Freedom build a four-goal lead on its way to the win.
Through the first three games, Team Freedom had allowed a showcase-low 26 goals. She allowed just four goals in a 14-13 win over Team Pride, made five saves in a half in a 20-8 win over Team Liberty on the second day of the tournament. The championship win capped off quite an experience for the Amherst College-bound Salerno.
”Everyone there was an All-American,” she said. “It was very high level lacrosse. It was very fast. My team, we got into working as a team very quickly. We worked off each other quickly. We did advanced moves. It was great as a goalie to watch and be a part of, and it was very, very fun.”
Salerno has played against her share of top-flight players. The showcase was the biggest collection of talent she’s shared the field with in her high school career.
”I’ve played with the U-19 schoolgirls state team,” she said. “There are a lot of fantastic girls there. These are like the elite of the elite from every state. They’re not only from New Jersey, but from Minnesota and Florida. It’s definitely the highest level that I’ve been a part of.”
Salerno earned the right to play in the game as an honorable mention All-American following a solid senior year at WW-P South. Then last month, she discovered she’d have the chance to travel to Florida for the US Lacrosse event.
”I learned I was an All-American just after the spring season ended, and even then we had to submit an application to be on one of these teams,” Salerno said. “I found out mid- to late-June. It didn’t hit me beforehand that I was at this level. This showcase was a huge opportunity to play my level of lacrosse and have fun with girls that are very, very good.”
Over four years with the Pirates, Salerno had proven her merit while helping her high school program develop. She started all four years at WW-P South.
”She’s been with me for every game along the way,” said Fisher, the WW-P South head coach the last four seasons. “She’s the only goalie I’ve ever known. We’ve got big shoes to replace.
”We knew after that freshman year, we knew we’d made the right decision by putting her in the net. That was the plan — to get her the early experience and be OK with her the next three years and worry about other things the program needed. We’ll miss her so much. She’s been like another coach for us.”
Salerno wasn’t always a goalie. Like her sisters Rachel, who will be a junior, and Dana, who will be a sophomore, she was a field player at first. She gave goalie a try as a Lightning Lacrosse player in fifth grade, but didn’t put all her attention to being a goalie until the summer before her freshman year.
”I played goalie that summer exclusively,” Salerno recalled. “At the end of the summer season, Kate Weeks, who’s a good friend who plays at Hun now, she was in seventh (grade) at that point, said, you’re one of the best goalies I’ve ever played with. If Kate Weeks says this, maybe I should do it. I really committed to the position after that.”
Salerno got more and more into the position every year. She didn’t have much of a choice when she was thrust into the starting lineup as a freshman.
”I had to take it seriously from the get-go,” Salerno said. “There was competition from the start. Fisher demanded a lot and it really helped me grow. From freshman year to sophomore year, I really exponentially got better, mostly because of Fish and Bob and the coaches on my summer team.”
Salerno developed further while playing for the Ultimate New Jersey and Ultimate Pennsylvania club teams the last couple of years. Starting four years for the Pirates and playing with high level club teams helped Salerno gain confidence and improve her skills to be able to play in the showcase event.
”My coaches, especially Bob Henderson and Bryan Fisher at South, prepared me to face high level lacrosse,” Salerno said. “It’s tough, but I’ve had a lot of training for years. Bob especially, he prepared me for these very intense shots.
”David Schlesinger, he’s coaching at Eastern, he’s been coaching me also at the schoolgirls national team the last couple of years. He helped me out along with Fish and Bob. I owe a lot to them to help me know I can play at this level.”
At the next level for Salerno, Amherst, she will have the opportunity to do the same thing she did for the Pirates — start all four years in a good program.
”I’m so excited to play at Amherst,” Salerno said. “All the girls there are fantastic lacrosse players. Playing at this level will really help me to play well in college for my coaches there.
”There is another goalie who is my age. She’s got a lot of honors in Connecticut where she’s from. She’s obviously good. It motivates me to get myself better. There will be good competition when I get there They lost a fantastic goalie who just graduated this year.”
Fisher believes that the way Salerno plays and the leader that she’s developed into will give her the chance to play plenty at Amherst.
”She’s a great teammate,” he said. “She’s vocal and encouraging. She’s just a positive kid all-around. So many colleges were attracted to her because she exudes that team-first mentality. That’s what you want.
”She’s aggressive. What’s most important is she really loves to be a goalie. It’s hard. I coach all these kids in the summer, they want to score goals and be in the midfield and run. She’s taken it on since middle school. She loves it. She’s going to Amherst. It’s a great school. She’s done the work in the classroom too.”
Salerno’s hard work on the lacrosse field afforded her the chance to make the showcase, one last final high school experience. She can shift her attention fully to getting ready for Amherst, and the all-star games gave her a taste of what to expect in college.
”Those games were high intensity, and that’s always important for a goalie to be in high intensity games and be under pressure,” Salerno said. “Anything like that will definitely help me in college. This showcase has helped me to realize what Bob’s been teaching me is right. I can succeed if I put myself out there.
”The position of goalie didn’t change, just how fast, how smart you have to be. There’s more tactics, you have to think faster because the game is faster. The basics of the game that I’ve learned since fifth grade haven’t changed. It’s just faster.”
Katelyn Salerno came away from the All-American Showcase with some nice perks to being selected, and the bragging rights from playing on the best of the all-star teams, something that could be seen on ESPN 3.
”I’m happy for her,” Fisher said. “To get to finish her senior year down at Disneyworld, it’s great for me as her coach to see, and it’s got to be one of the best moments she’s had.”