By Ryan Berti, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Bel Air, Md., a small community 30 miles outside of Baltimore, may not be the same as its sunny and millionaire-mansion-filled California counterpart, but it does have several things going for it. For one, it was named one of the "Top 100 Best Small Towns" back in 2015, but it also sits in the hotbed of lacrosse country and is called home to three Nittany Lions in Maggie Gallagher, Sarah Piazza and Abby Smucker.
The three grew up playing lacrosse together in the area and eventually all attended C. Milton Wright High School. There they joined forces and together went to three semifinals appearances in as many state tournaments. Piazza and Smucker, both one year Gallagher's elder, also were starters in 2010 when the team made its way to the state championship game.
Combined, the three served five years of captainship for their high school squad and amassed 10 all-county selections. Each were ranked high on recruiter's wish lists for their own individual merits, and each decided to go to the best possible place for themselves, but in the end it just so happened that they all ended up deciding the best place to play was for Penn State.
"I feel like we all just took our own path with that and then it all just kind of worked out," Piazza said about the recruiting process. "We'd have some people at home that we'd also get that next chapter with, so it kind of made it more special."
Piazza and Smucker made the jump to Division I in 2014 and were joined a year later by Gallagher after she wrapped up her senior high school season. The girls said those early years of making the switch to college helped them out dramatically in both an on and off the field setting. Having others with them that they already knew helped make the big, and sometimes intimidating, first impression of Happy Valley a little smaller.
"Off the field we had a little bit of home that came with us to State College right away," Smucker said about the ease of the transition. "And then on the field as well. We knew each other's tendencies so it kind of made that transition into college lacrosse kind of a little easier."
That on the field chemistry can be seen every game day as the three have meshed together on the field. When together, Piazza holds down the fort as a defender while Gallagher and Smucker work the midfield.
Together on the attack, the two midfielders have shown how effective their harmony can be. Both have started every game played this season and have racked up a total of 29 points off 19 goals and 10 assists. Gallagher's 18 and Smucker's 11 are good for fourth and sixth on the team.
"I think it definitely translates on the field, especially now that I'm back on the offensive end where Maggie is too," Smucker said. "We've definitely been seeing each other very well both on and off with her rolling on the crease and me up top."
But the group's bond goes far beyond what they can do each time they pick up their sticks. Over the years, lacrosse has brought them closer than just being teammates; they've become family.
"It's just like a family, which is what I think kind of drew us all to Penn State in the first place is that it just had such a family atmosphere," Piazza said. "We were close in high school, but I think just spending these last four years together made us even closer like I said on and off the field," Smucker continued. "We've grown together, and like Sarah said before, we're kind of like a family now," Smucker said.
With Piazza and Smucker both seniors, soon the group's saga will come to an end. Until then, the three still have the rest of the season to make the most of what they can, and cap off their years together in the best way possible. But, even without a story book ending, the three say the journey has been great and that they are proud of what they have been able to do with their unique opportunity.
"We've just been given such a great opportunity here at Penn State to play lacrosse together and like making the most of it and having fun together," Gallagher said.