Ocean City High School's Lauren McNally watches the Penn State University field hockey team on the Big Ten Network from her home in the Marmora section of Upper Township.
She decided last week to become part of the Nittany Lions' show.
McNally, a 16-year-old junior defender, committed to Penn State and will play for the Nittany Lions starting in 2015. She'll receive a partial athletic scholarship that includes full tuition and books.
"I'm really happy with the decision," McNally said. "It's close to home, and my parents are alumni of Penn State."
Her father, George McNally, is the boys basketball coach at Egg Harbor Township. Her mother is Wendy McNally.
"My brother (Jack) and my aunt (Jeanne Qurick, of Boston) and uncle (John McNally, of Pennsylvania) are, too. I've always gone there with my family, and it's a great atmosphere. They have a highly ranked business college, and I'm interested in that. I visited the team (two weekends ago) and coach (Char) Morett was wonderful. She's a great coach and a very nice person."
McNally, a member of the U.S. Under-17 Junior National Team, is a three-year starter for Ocean City. She helped the Red Raiders to state Group III championships in 2012 and this year. She's a defender who plays from one end of the field to the other.
McNally led a defense that had 14 shutouts this fall. She also had 15 goals and 15 assists, big stats for a defensive standout. She was a first-team Press All-Star for the second straight year. Ocean City finished 19-6 and was ranked second in The Press Elite 11 at season's end.
"Lauren is primarily a defender, and she sees the space on the field and sends incredible passes," Ocean City coach Cory Terry said. "She's also an offensive threat and has a really hard shot. She has great stick skills. She's very strong and great at starting the attack from the defensive end."
McNally is the younger sister of Danielle McNally, who led Ocean City to the state Group III title as a senior defender in 2009 and was The Press Female Athlete of the Fall that year. Danielle McNally just completed a four-year field hockey career at Indiana University and will graduate in May.
Danielle anchored the Hoosiers' defense this year, and had seven goals and two assists. She was named to the Big Ten all-tournament team.
"I grew up watching Danielle play, and she's my role model," Lauren McNally said.
Ocean City's two most-recent state titles were the eighth and ninth in program history. As a sophomore in 2012, Lauren McNally scored the winning goal in the Group III championship game as the Red Raiders beat Warren Hills Regional 2-0. She had 18 goals and 12 assists.
"As a defender, I can see everything on the field, and I see the passing lanes and help the team to score," McNally said.
She also visited Iowa, Boston College, Kent. State, Louisville, Central Michigan, Massachusetts and Indiana.
Penn State won the Big Ten regular-season title for the second straight year this year. The Nittany Lions qualified for the NCAA tournament and finished 13-6 overall.
McNally can now concentrate on her final season at Ocean City.
"I think it takes a lot of pressure off a player (to commit to a college before their senior season)," Terry said. "They're relieved to know where they're going, and I'm sure Lauren is feeling the same way now."
McNally added, "I'm very excited about next year. We'll lose some very big seniors (from this year's team), but we have younger players who can step up. We've worked hard the last two years, and we can work our way back up."
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