Once the fiercest of foes, Kenie Wright and Lexie Palladino are national champions together.
Last fall, Wright was a senior at Lenape High School and Palladino was a junior at Shawnee when the two rivals played against each for the South Jersey Group 4 girls’ soccer championship.
In mid-July, they joined together on the Players Development Academy (PDA) Arsenal to win the 2015 Elite Clubs National League U17 National Championship.
“It is amazing playing with Kenie,” Palladino said. “It was hard playing against her because we are friends. I couldn’t ask for a better teammate.”
Arsenal, which is based in New Jersey, beat Crossfire Premier of Washington 4-2 in penalty kicks in Richmond, Virginia for the title.
Coincidently, Wright and Palladino will join together again to play on the same team at Rutgers University in two years.
“It is exciting that we are both going to Rutgers,” said Wright, who will be a freshman at RU in a few weeks. “In high school we were big rivals, but outside of that we are good friends and teammates. I look forward to playing together.”
Last year, Shawnee lost to Lenape in the South Jersey Group 4 final.
“They scored in the last minute,” Palladino said.
The Arsenal squad played to a 1-1 draw after 110 minutes with Crossfire Premier before winning on PKs. Arsenal, which won the ECNL Northeast Conference the last two years, placed third at the 2012 ECNL National Championships.
“It made me a stronger player,” Palladino said about competing for the national championship. “The experience and everything was amazing, to say that you are the No. 1 team in the country.”
Wright, who lives in Mount Laurel, was a two-time captain of the Indians. She was a letter winner as a freshman when Lenape won the 2011 state championship.
She helped her team win the last three South Jersey sectional championships and four Coaches Tournament tiltes. She was twice named first team All-State.
“It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” said Wright, who played all but five minutes throughout the tournament. “I’ve wanted to win a national championship ever since I joined the team four years ago. I knew this was our year to win it all.”
Arsenal coach Meg Ryan was impressed how Wright and Palladino played together and with their teammates.
“The thing that makes them so special is that they fight for each other and I knew that they weren’t going to break,” Ryan said.
Palladino committed to Rutgers during her sophomore year. She knew her friend was also going to play for the Scarlet Knights.
“She is such a talented player,” Palladino said about Wright. “She reads me how I plan and I read her how she plays.”
Palladino, who lives in Medford, is a center midfield for the Renegades, but played outside forward for the Arsenal. She starting playing for the Arsenal two years ago.
“It definitely adds to my confidence a lot going into the season,” said Palladino, who is attending the Rutgers’ team soccer camp this week. “We have a strong team coming back. I think we will have good season again.”
Road to the title
Arsenal was one of 32 teams that made it to the qualifying rounds in Seattle in late June. Arsenal swept with three wins over Colorado Storm (1-0), Solar Chelsea, South Carolina (5-2), and International, South Carolina (2-0) to qualify as one of eight teams in the semifinals at Richmond.
Arsenal won the first game 4-1 over Santa Rosa, California.
“The second game we played the two-time national champs, Eclipse,” Wright said about the team from Illinois. “We ended up winning 3-0 and we had so much momentum from then on after that game.”
The third game was against the Slammers from California and Arsenal needed just a tie to move on to the national championship game.
Arsenal trailed 3-2 late in the game.
“Time was ticking down, but we continued to fight hard until the end,” Wright said. “Since the other team was stalling the ref added four minutes of extra time to the end of the game.”
At the 92nd minute of the game, Wright had a corner kick.
“I really just wanted to get it as close to the net as possible to help my team,” Wright said. “I curved it right into the near post. I thought someone on my team had touched it in, but apparently it went in directly from my kick.”
Palladino didn’t touch the ball, but she did help it go in.
“My job was to mark the keeper on the corner kick, my whole team told me not to let the keeper get the ball,” Palladino said. “When Kenie kicked it, I jumped up and blocked the goalie’s vision.
“I blocked the goalie from getting the ball and Kenie put it in the back of the net, so that was pretty cool.”
Arsenal moved on to the national championship game because it had two wins and a tie and the Slammers had 2 ties and a win.
Arsenal scored first in the national championship game, but Crossfire tied it in the second half. After a scoreless double overtime, the game went into PKs.
“We all ran and hugged each other and were crying with joy,” Wright said. “There is no other way I would want to end my club soccer career.”
Soon she’ll get to continue playing her college career with her friend and Arsenal teammate.
Kevin Callahan; (856) 486-2424; kcallahan@GannettNJ.com