Elena Boal and Sri Kunchapu selfishly could root against the other, but instead of looking at their own playing time, they are each other’s biggest fans.
The seniors share time in goal for the High School North girls lacrosse team, and offer credit to each other for their development.
“I give it all to Elena,” Kunchapu said. “It’s because we helped each other to grow and the fact we’re always willing to help each other out. There’s not some sort of competition. We know at the end of the day, it makes each other stronger, and we’re not just helping each other, we’re helping the team as well.”
Boal is far more experienced than Kunchapu, and played more in the early going last season and this season before Kunchapu earned more playing time. Boal’s oldest sister, Nina, played goalie before switching to midfield in middle school.
Her other sister, Eva, also played goalie and started for WW-P North four years ago. She is in her senior year of playing goalie for the women’s lacrosse team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Boal will be a freshman next year and follow in Eva’s footsteps on the team.
“We’re a lacrosse family,” Boal said. “My sisters both played and my dad coaches lacrosse. I did start because of my sisters. I didn’t keep playing it because of them. I kept playing because I loved the sport and I love my teammates.”
After Eva graduated, Boal played JV her freshman year but dressed varsity. She got some playing time as a sophomore behind a senior, Rachel Wu, before taking over the majority of starts last year with Kunchapu backing her up.
“I’m pretty proud of the relationships I have with the goalies at North,” Boal said. “I like teaching them.”
While Boal took up the game in second grade and started playing goalie with the West Windsor Lightning program in fifth grade, Kunchapu didn’t start playing until eighth grade. Their friendship grew from there.
“We knew each other, but we weren’t really friends,” Boal said. “We became friends more because of lacrosse than anything else.”
Said Kunchapu: “Elena took me under her wing and she taught me everything. Sometimes when I think about it, it’s all her. When I see myself on film, it’s all Elena.”
The two help each other now. They are in communication with each other between halves to help the other.
“We have this goalie chart and we mark where the shots are going in,” Kunchapu said. “We gather as much information as possible, and then as soon as we come off, we tell the other one so we make sure we’re looking out for it.”
“Being able to have a solid defense, that has good communication, that is able to back each other up when is needed, and we have a goalie communicating to her defenders where the ball is, I think it’s huge,” said second-year head coach Julia Giordano. “Now the game is shifting to play these different defenses that don’t necessarily allow the drive that these girls have been taught to do.
“Now more than ever, if you have a solid defense that can stop these drives, it’s huge. It’s exciting we’ve been able to make so many stops early on in the season.”
Giordano, a former goalie at The College of New Jersey, has a soft spot in her heart for goalies, but she also holds them accountable and keeps them focused on developing. In addition to Boal and Kunchapu, the Knights have another senior goalie, Sruthia Darbha.
“I know what it’s like to be in their spot, and I know the things I tried to get away with,” Giordano said. “I want to try to hold them to a high standard.”
The goalie trio are three of the 16 seniors that lead the Knights roster. Seniors are Xenia Alecio, Boal, Darbha, Megan Foley, Bella Jacobson, Kunchapu, Katie Laresch, Gitika Maheshwari, Michelle Marcus, Shreya Molugu, Elisabeth O’Connell, Nora Pehnke, Meghana Reddy, Camille Redmond, Samantha Richman and Aspen Rodas. Juniors are Elizabeth Bianchine, Olivia Dyke, Emma Lilleywhite, Hana Mahmood, Aditi Nayak, Jillian Pelosi and Maria Tello. Sophomores are Jessica Heiser, Caley Knox, Kathryn Murphy, Olivia Richardson and Sydney Vogel.
“In practice, we’re able to go more into complex skills because we have the basis of our game plan down that our girls are comfortable with and aware of from last year,” Giordano said. “We’re able to break things down more for the girls and develop them as individual players and that then will translate to the field for them as a team.”
Having a cohesive group of goalies has added to the strong team dynamic.
“Having a good relationship with your co-goalie is nice to have because of all the time that we spend together,” Boal said. “We try to be as supportive of each other. Watching her play from the sidelines, honestly I’m proud of her when she plays well. And I want to help when I can sense she’s getting frustrated with herself.”
No one is pulling harder for each other when the opposing attack fires a shot. The two are in their second year of practicing together and doing all they can to help the Knights.
“We know we trust each other to do equally as well as the other one would,” Kunchapu said. “I’m so honored that Coach would give me a chance at the end of the year, to know she can trust me in the cage. I’ve known coach Giordano since freshman year. We’ve always had this goalie thing because she’s also a goalie as well. She understands everything. She knows everything. She was in our same position. She knows what our weaknesses are and what our strengths are.”
Giordano’s encouragement along with Boal’s help is one reason that Kunchapu says she’s determined to continue playing at the club level next year at Rutgers University. And she will be pulling hard from afar for Boal, who will be playing Division III.
“The fact that she’s playing at MIT, it kind of makes me proud,” Kunchapu said, adding with a laugh, “Sometimes I like to take the credit, like I’ve helped. Like MIT is watching out, so am I. We’ve had such great connection and energy, and we’ve never had a problem. When one does good, we know we both did good at the end of the day.”