Aspiring local girls lacrosse players couldn't have a better player to emulate than Tess Solazzo of Ocean City High School.
Solazzo, probably the best player the Cape-Atlantic League has ever produced in its short lacrosse history, is The Press Player of the Year for the second straight season. She will attend Ohio State University on a NCAA Division I scholarship.
Solazzo boosted the reputation of the entire local lacrosse scene. She showed that local players can be among the state's best.
"It's a huge honor," she said. "I want to be looked at as a role model. The sports is growing, and I'm so happy to be a part of it."
Solazzo's statistics speak for themselves.
She led the Red Raiders to a 15-4 record and the Cape-Atlantic League championship.
Solazzo scored 110 goals and led the state with 111 assists.
She finished her career with 319 career goals, becoming just the ninth girl in New Jersey with 300 or more career goals.
Solazzo doesn't like to talk about herself. She always steers the conversation back to her teammates and team achievements.
"If it wasn't for my team, there was no way I would come close to those numbers," she said.
But numbers tell just part of her story.
Solazzo grew up outside of Princeton in Mercer County. She moved to Ocean City after she finished eighth grade.
"We've been coming to Ocean City since I was a baby," said Solazzo, who started playing lacrosse in the third grade. "We thought it would the perfect time to move because I wasn't completely sure where I was going to high school in Princeton."
Lacrosse was relatively new to the CAL four years ago. Solazzo had more experience that many of her teammates.
Other players might have been frustrated with that situation. Solazzo made her teammates better.
"Her sense of the field is natural," Ocean City coach Alyssa-Rae Preis said. "She knows her teammates well. She could score in any situation and get the ball to her teammates while communicating with them. She just knew where they would be."
Preis took over the Red Raiders program this year. She had never seen Solazzo play and had only heard about her talent.
Even this spring, the coach had to wait to see Solazzo on the field. Solazzo missed the first couple of practices because she was playing for the Red Raiders' basketball team that won a state title.
She practiced once this spring before the Red Raiders scrimmaged Washington Township. Solazzo dominated the scrimmage, scoring multiple goals.
"I knew from there she was going to live up to what I was told about her before the season started," Preis said. "Just seeing her stick handle the first day on the field was awesome."
Solazzo emphasized that her time with the Red Raiders lacrosse program was not a one-way relationship. She got as much from the team as it got from her.
"I grew as a player 100 percent in Ocean City," Solazzo said. "Being surrounded by a strong team. We've had experienced coaches."
Team of the Year
Ocean City lost its first game to Mainland Regional 8-7 on April 24.
The Red Raiders never lost sight of the rematch. Ocean City won the second game 14-9 on May 13 to win the CAL title.
Ocean City (15-4) finished No. 10 in The Press Elite 11 and is The Press Team of the Year.
"Ever since that loss, we took it game by game and kept improving," Solazzo said. "We knew we had Mainland as one of our last games and we beat them to win the CAL title. That was my proudest moment. I was proud of my team."
The Red Raiders featured not only Solazzo but also several other talented seniors, including Casey Hanna, Bri Armond, Natalie Landi, Brooke Zukawski and Sarah Dalsey.
"We all just jelled as a team," Solazzo said. "All the seniors played four years together, so we had amazing chemistry."
Coach of the Year
Preis took over a program on top.
She kept it there.
Preis is The Press Coach of the Year. The Red Raiders won their third straight CAL title this season.
Preis was an assistant for four years at Washington Township before becoming the Ocean City coach. She was originally hired as a junior varsity coach but was promoted to the head job just nine days before practices started after former coach Matt Lane stepped down for personal reasons.
Preis relished the opportunity to lead the program.
"It was hectic," she said. "It was more the paperwork aspect of it. I was ready for the tryouts and the first week. After the first week, I felt a lot more confident."
Solazzo said Preis excelled at motivating the Red Raiders.
"She was a great asset for our team," Solazzo said. "Before every game we would circle up and link arms. She would pick a player to say a quote and she would (rally the team) off the that quote. I think it really helped us become stronger together."
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