Lawrence lacrosse player Sarah Berardi first started with the sport as a freshman, but she has grown into one of the team’s top players. (Photo by Rich Fisher.)

Talk about having natural talent.

Sarah Berardi did not start playing lacrosse until ninth grade and even now she doesn’t play travel or club. All her work comes with the Lawrence High team, or in her backyard.

And yet, she will play college lacrosse at Rowan University next year.

That’s what happens when you combine raw ability with hard work.

“It’s honestly crazy,” the senior center-midfielder said with a laugh. “They’re fabulous coaches with everything they taught me here. I have a lacrosse goal at my house and I got a rebounder so I could go out and practice on my own because I had never played before. I knew I needed more time to practice and get better. Every day after practice I’d go to my house, use the rebounder, shoot on goal just to make myself better. I didn’t want to have just one practice a day.”

The results have been noticeable. Through the Cardinals 4-3 start, Berardi had 39 goals this season and 124 for her career. On Apr. 4 against Hamilton West, her seven goals put her over the 100 mark and allowed her to break the school record for goals in a season. Sabrina Pascarella had the previous mark before graduating in 2015.

“She has really impressed me from the first day of practice,” coach Heather Phillips said. “She holds herself to high standards and never settles for anything but her best. She has always been like that. She’s really growing. As a senior she’s a huge leader on attack, defense, midfield, taking draws. She’s just all over the place.”

Berardi has played soccer all her life, and always wanted to play lacrosse but there was none offered in Lawrence when she was a kid.

“If they had a middle school team I would have 100 percent played.,” she said. “I always wanted to try it and it always seemed so fun and enjoyable. I watched college lacrosse on TV, I loved it.”

Berardi had the usual growing pains when she started, as she needed to learn how to cradle the ball to avoid losing it. She started on JV as a freshman and was called up later in the season and immediately fit in at midfield. She scored four goals that year, and really wasn’t thinking about breaking records as much as just following her older teammates’ example.

“Honestly I had no idea I could do something like that,” she said. “As a freshman the older kids in front of me had such a great impact on us that I wanted to be like them. I didn’t honestly think that this would happen. I just wanted to be a great role model and great leader and an overall great teammate, just like the older girls were when I was a freshman. It was my first year playing lacrosse and all the older girls made me feel welcome and were great role models.”

Berardi continued to toil at home in the off-season and came back to score 27 goals as a sophomore. She doubled that total with 54 last year, which is when she realized that 100 was a reasonable goal.

“As soon as I started thinking about it I really wanted it because it’s a huge accomplishment,” Berardi said. “And to get it with all my teammates who I love and care about, and who support me so much was great. Our team has a great bond and I love the atmosphere.”

After hitting the century mark, the next goal was getting past Pascarella.

“I kind of knew the record but I wasn’t sure of the exact total,” Berardi said. “When they told me I broke the record I had no idea. I heard a bunch of different numbers. We didn’t know the exact one until Phillips told me.”

Despite her scoring prowess, Berardi’s first instinct is not to shoot the ball, but to check out the overall situation. If she does not feel she has a good angle, she will pass the ball off rather than try and force the issue, get double teamed and lose the ball. When Sarah does shoot, she is dangerous in several ways.

“I think she kind of just sets the bar high and she is always focusing on where the shot’s gonna be going,” Phillips said. “She sees the big picture and really concentrates on seeing the ball to the cage. She has a hard shot when she goes high, but sometimes she has a finesse shot, And she’s very fast. She’s got the footwork, the speed. You add a good shot to that and you’ve got an all-around player. And she’s a good defender, her speed gets her footwork going.”

She’s the kind of player colleges are looking for, which is why Berardi will head to Rowan along with Nottingham’s 100-goal scorer, Michaela Donnelly, next year.

The two never met off the lacrosse field until a recruits meeting in Glassboro, and they immediately clicked.

“I always knew about her, now I’m excited to play with her,” Berardi said. “And Rowan was my first choice overall. I loved the campus. It was so easy to make my decision.”

Berardi, who has a 3.65 grade point average, will major in health and physical education and wants to become a coach and teacher. Her long-range goal is to become an athletic director, so LHS AD Greg Zenerovitz may want to worry about his job in four years. Berardi is a natural leader on the field and off. She is president of the Student Council, vice-president of the Driver’s Ed club and is also in DECA.

With those kind of responsible positions, she already has a head start on running things like an athletic staff.

“I just like the atmosphere,” Berardi said. “I’m interested when I see what Mr. Z does. I love being around sports. So with my major, I just want to tie it all together. I’ve talked to Mr. Z a couple times, but once the school year starts to settle down I’ll go to him for any tips he wants to give to me.”

Who knows? Maybe it will come as naturally to her as lacrosse did.