Any conversation about Spring-Ford field hockey over the last four years was bound to include Gabby Major's name.
From her freshman to senior seasons, Major's scoring prowess terrorized opposing PAC-10 schools as the Rams went from middle-of-the-pack contender to the forefront of District 1-AAA and state consideration.
With Major partnering with her cousin and fellow classmate, Alyssa Chillano, the Rams made it to the PIAA-AAA playoffs (in 2011) for the first time in nearly a decade while also capturing the team's first PAC-10 title (in 2012).
Coming this fall, the best friends will be on opposite sides of the field, as Major signed her letter of intent to play at the University of North Carolina — a 30-minute drive north from Chillano's future home of Duke University.
"The school was all perfect for me,' said Major, who's currently undecided on her college major. "The team and the coaching staff are so welcoming, fun and hardworking. At UNC I can play at the highest level of hockey and get a great education at the same time. There's nothing about it that I dislike.'
Major, the daughter of Mae and Paul Major, will play under legendary coach Karen Shelton. Throughout her 32 years at the helm of UNC, Shelton has led the Tar Heels to six national championships, 18 ACC Championships while garnering more than 550 career victories under her belt.
Playing without Chillano, though?
"It'll be fun, yet different,' Major said, reflecting on her time spent with Chillano.
Two teams. Same conference. Bitter rivals.
North Carolina and Duke have stood at the forefront of the NCAA field hockey rankings, especially in the 2013 season. Duke bested the Tar Heels 3-2 on penalty strokes in the regular season and almost had a chance to play against each other in the National Championship — but North Carolina fell to eventual winner Connecticut (another local-laden team) in the NCAA semifinals.
"I'm going to miss playing with her (Chillano) so much,' Major said. "She's my best friend and we work so well together.'
However for Major, it shouldn't be too different without her confidant by her side.
After Chillano went down with a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament in a 3-1 victory over Downingtown East on Aug. 31, Major soon exemplified her strong leadership skills. The team suffered an initial blow by losing four of its next five games by a combined margin of 10-2 with Major only connecting with the back of the cage once during that span.
However, Major's skill and finesse in the midfield, along with a team that had jelled in the absence of one of their leaders, led Spring-Ford to wins in eight of its next nine games to earn the Rams a spot in the District 1-AAA playoffs — a destiny that seemed farfetched when the team was mired in its 3-4 start.
"When Alyssa went down, she (Major) stepped up and did what she needed to do in order to help our team stay together," Spring-Ford head coach Jennie Moore said. "She was a solid leader for our team this year, and like Alyssa, I can't wait to see what she's going to do next year.'
With the absence of Chillano, Major produced the same gaudy stat sheet that locals have become accustomed to in her final campaign. Major led the team with 25 goals and 12 assists, including a three-game stretch from Sept. 28-Oct. 2 where she registered 10 goals in wins over Upper Dublin (three goals), Perkiomen Valley (three goals) and Boyertown (four goals). That stretch of torrid play earned her a spot on the PAC-10 Liberty Division first team as well as the Mercury All-Area first team — putting the seal on her star-studded Spring-Ford resume.
"I was happy with the season,' Major said. "It was a big loss losing Alyssa and it's awful that it happened, but I think the team adjusted well. It may not have turned out the way we wanted but I really feel like everyone improved individually and as a unit.'
Major's offensive prowess earlier in her career was what had Division 1 coaches pursuing during her days as a Ram. Throughout her four years, Major earned Mercury All-Area honors as a freshman along with an PAC-10 honorable mention acclaim. Major's numbers increased her sophomore season as she scored 33 goals and seven assists as the Rams qualified for the PIAA-AAA playoffs for the first time in a decade, including a hat trick in a 3-2 fifth-place victory over Wissahickon.
Her strongest season, as a junior, Major scored a team-high 37 goals as the Rams won its first PAC-10 championship in 11 years, earning her Mercury All-Area Player of the Year honors and a verbal commitment to play for the Tar Heels.
"Gabby is one of the best stick handlers I have seen in all my years being around the sport,' Moore said. "This year she faced triple- and sometimes quadruple-teams and she still managed to find a way to get around defenders and put the ball in the goal.'
Outside of Spring-Ford, Major has a healthy resume. She's played for the United States U-19 national team the past two years and is plays club hockey for the elite X-Calibur club team located at the 422 SportsPlex. It is an experience that Major believes has helped her mold into the player that she is today.
"All these different programs, with different coaches and competition have really helped shape who I am now,' she said. "They all brought separate aspects of the game and I'm so thankful.'
Entering her last few months as a member of the Spring-Ford family, Major will have her eyes geared toward a new start, a new beginning. Knowing Major, these next four years could spell the same as her last four — success.
"It's a big commitment (going D-1),' Major said. 'But I'm really excited and ready to get down there and start working with the team and coaches and get an education.'
Follow Sam Stewart on Twitter @Samuel_Stewart7