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Sept. 29, 2021 — It’s not just about the shoes for Talia Schenck

LAWRENCE, N.J. — You can always tell when Talia Schenck is playing a field hockey game. Just look for the shoes.

Schenck’s traffic-cone orange Adidas shoes are visible if you watch her on the NFHS Network or if you see her live playing for Lawrence (N.J.).

“They’re new this year,” she says, indicating that her shoes and matching orange gloves are in homage to Princeton University, where she will be attending next year.

And the senior forward has got plenty of game to warrant such visible footwear. Coming into this week, Schenck is leading the nation in goal scoring, with 51 goals at the close of play on Monday. She had all six goals for the Cardinals as they came back from an early deficit against their neighborhood rival Lawrence Notre Dame (N.J.) in a 6-3 win.

Her single-season total is the highest ever recorded for a field hockey player from not only Lawrence’s league (the Colonial Valley Conference), but from the county (Mercer). Not only that, she has the 10th highest goal-scoring total in the 112-year history of scholastic field hockey in America, with 182.

Schenck is a multi-tool player. She can beat you off the dribble, strike the ball with accuracy in the midfield to open teammates, and shoot on goal with remarkable aplomb. In the Notre Dame game, she had a pair of backhand shots that she cannonned expertly into the mesh, scored on a penalty stroke, and caused all manner of trouble on self-starts. On several occasions she cantered through the Irish defensive third and accelerated into the critical scoring area, sometimes appearing to melt through defenders.

It’s this kind of all-around play that she learned at a young age, refining it in middle school and with the Princeton Field Hockey Club.

“By the time I got serious, I was 10 or 11,” she said. “When I was 13, Carla Tagliente and Mike Pallister brought me up to the U-19s, and that’s when my game took off. It changed everything for me.”

When Schenck was in junior high, she built a resume and reputation that got the notice of the Lawrence coaching staff.

“Here’s the thing,” says Lawrence coach Megan Errico. “My JV coach, Caroline Bartosik, was on the team when they were starting to get winning records, and when she graduated in 2018, Talia was in eighth grade. We knew she was coming, and we got really lucky. Coaching her has been phenomenal.”

But for Schenck, success is a product of the dedication and devotion to the sport.

“I hope people realize the work we put into the game,” Schenck says. “That’s something I try to work on every game. You don’t have to be the best-skilled player if you have the drive.”

“There’s a book by Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers), about doing something for 10,000 hours, and that’s why Mozart was so good — and she does that,” Errico says. “You’re only lucky to be in the presence of greatness a few times in your life. I’m in the presence of greatness; that doesn’t always happen.”

Schenck has been the national leader in goals before leader before. She had a great start to her sophomore season and was the leader in goals at the close of play Sept. 25, 2019. But days later, she suffered a broken ankle and was lost to the Cardinals for the season.

In 2020, the team played a COVID-shortened season which had a statement victory in November. During a 7-1 win over local rival Princeton, Schenck scored all seven goals even as the Cardinals were outshot. She exhibited a similar game generalship Monday afternoon.

“In that game,” Schenck said of the 2020 win over Princeton, “we came out a lot stronger. Here, we were on our heels in the first quarter before we came back.”

At the end of the 2020 COVID-shortened season, Lawrence finished its season in the Central/West Class “A” championship final against Glen Gardner Voorhees (N.J.). The Cardinals, a successful but long-suffering program in the CVC, fell short of winning its first major trophy in field hockey, dropping a 4-2 decision.

That loss has fueled Schenck’s fire this season. She is not only using her considerable talent to move to goal, but to get teammates involved, drawing the pictures in the attack end and making hard passes to the front for her wingers to latch onto.

“I’m trying to get my teammates to move more, and sometime when I’m back (behind the 50), I try to get them more passes,” Schenck says. “I think it’s something we still need to work on, but we’re getting the movement better. Hopefully, we’re getting there.”

Schenck’s numbers say that she is the highest-scoring player in the history of the New Jersey capital region. But she is hoping to bring Lawrence a state championship, something no CVC-member team has done since 1984.

“We need to work more in the offseason, but last year we had a really good run,” Schenck says. “I do see more girls have more dedication to the sport. It’s starting.”

“I’ve been lucky to have had her in class (at Lawrence),” Errico says. “Sometimes, it’s hard to say that I coach her. I can put people around her and I can make sure I can find ways to support her, but she’s so phenomenal that she coaches me, in a sense. This year is her year.”

A year from now, she will be matriculating to Princeton University to play under Tagliente, who coaches the Tiger varsity as well as Princeton FHC. The program is just two years removed from making the national title match, but with a good roster of junior national team athletes in place already, she could help the Tigers contend for a third national championship.

“I think the main factor (in the decision to attend Princeton) is the coaching staff,” Schenck says. “They are the greatest people and role models for me.”

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