North Salem High School junior Lili Valletta commits to Villanova University

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Photo by Jennifer Dallow

North Salem High School junior Lili Valletta is just 16 years old but she has already made one of the biggest decisions of her young life. Last week, the All-League, All-Section lacrosse standout committed to play Division I lacrosse at Villanova University beginning in fall 2024.

Valletta has been playing lacrosse since Kindergarten, when she attended a clinic hosted by family friend Wendy Bucaj. By 5th grade, Valletta’s passion for the game really took off when she began playing for Prime Time, a premier lacrosse club program.

Photo by Jennifer Dallow

Once she joined Prime Time, playing at the collegiate level became the ultimate goal. “We’re all super into it and super competitive. We’re all trying to make each other better,” Valletta said.

Dr. Don Merriman, head coach for North Salem High School’s varsity girls lacrosse team, has coached Valletta since she joined North Salem’s middle school modified lacrosse team (Merriman has since moved up along with many of the girls in Valletta’s grade, going on to coach the junior varsity and now the varsity team). “Lili has natural athletic ability of course, but she’s also super hard working, Merriman said. “She doesn’t take a day off.” He added that even as a freshman midfielder, Valletta would play “all game, every game.”

“The women’s lacrosse field is 120 yards long. If you’re playing midfield, you’re playing 60-70 yards back and forth each play,” Merriman explained. “Lili would go in and wouldn’t want to come out of the game, even if we were winning or losing by a lot. She’s an intense competitor, and really driven.”

Photo by Jennifer Dallow

For Valletta, playing lacrosse is almost therapeutic. “If I’m having a rough day, I’ll go outside and pass on the bounce back. It gets my mind off of things,” she said. “It's so relaxing but it also turns on this competitive side that’s hard to explain. It makes my day so much better when I play.”

While Valletta has spent most of her childhood working toward the goal of a collegiate offer–playing both elite-level club lacrosse as well as for North Salem’s varsity team for the past few years–it was no less surreal when the time came for recruiters to seek her out.

Beginning at midnight on September 1, Division I colleges and universities can begin contacting lacrosse recruits. At precisely midnight on that day, Valletta’s phone began blowing up with texts and emails from schools across the country. “It was one of the weirdest and most exciting times ever, but so stressful,” Valletta said. “I was just freaking out in my room.”

Villanova was one of the schools to reach out with an early offer. Valletta had some prior exposure to the school, as her brother had attended a camp there. She was also aware of their strong academic reputation. The school has a 25% acceptance rate, and half of admitted applicants have an SAT score between 1350 and 1490, according to U.S. News & World Report. Valletta said her parents ultimately left it to her to pick the school she felt most comfortable with.

“My parents were so great,” she said. “It was a super stressful time; they would give me space, but they were there for me the whole time.”

Ultimately, Valletta said Villanova was an obvious choice for her. “It’s a beautiful campus, the coaches are super nice, and it’s definitely a really good school for academics; I do pride myself on academics.”

The fall of 2024 will come quickly, but between now and then Valletta still has a few more things to do. She wants to earn All-Section honors again during her remaining two seasons playing for North Salem. And she still has all the obligations and stresses of being a high school student, minus figuring out what she wants to do after graduation.

“It's definitely crazy knowing what’s next,” she said. “ I know where I’m going to college before I can legally drive a car.”

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