East Quogue residents Emily and Megan Pepe are no strangers to leading a team. They both led the Westhampton Beach girls lacrosse team in the spring of 2009, the year they graduated.
Fast-forward to four years later, and the Pepe twins are once again leading another team as seniors—this time it’s the Sacred Heart University women’s lacrosse team. Emily and Megan are virtually the only seniors for the Pioneers this season; Morgan Merriman is a senior as well but also plays basketball and won’t join the team until halfway through the spring. It’ll be a challenge for the Pepe sisters but one they’re willing to face head-on.
“We were picked to finish sixth in the [Northeast Conference], but we’d like to get back as one of the top teams and eventually finish first so we could host the NEC tournament,” Megan said.
Sacred Heart was also ranked sixth in its conference in preseason polls last season, but a late-season push by the Pioneers eventually led a to first-place finish and the top seed in the conference tournament. Sacred Heart was upset in the first game of the tournament, though, a 7-4 loss to Mount Saint Mary’s University. The first-round loss, coupled with a number of players lost to graduation, means less is expected of the Pioneers this season.
“It was a little bit of a shock to be pre-ranked sixth,” Emily said. “We’ll have to upset a couple of non-conference games in preparation of our conference schedule. But I think a lot of people don’t see us as a threat, since we graduated a lot of seniors and we have a lot of freshmen.”
Both Emily and Megan originally went to Jacksonville University in Florida and spent their entire freshman season on that team before deciding they were too far from home. “Florida was definitely a reality check,” Emily said. “You realize after a while that Mom and Dad can’t really see you. It was good that I had Megan there, but in regards to lacrosse, Sacred Heart had a lot of juniors and seniors at the time, not just freshmen, so it was a nice fit.”
Megan said she had a rough time at Jacksonville. “I was really homesick. I had never been away from my family for so long,” she said. “And I didn’t realize at the time that all of the girls on our team were also homesick.”
If anything good came out of Jacksonville, it was the fact that Megan was able to become a versatile player. Having played attack and midfield in high school, Megan saw that Jacksonville lacked defenders, so she decided to play that position there. By the time she got to Sacred Heart as a sophomore, Megan was a pure defender, but she also played some goalie. “I saw the opportunity, and whatever the team needed at that time, I was willing to do,” she said. “Since I played some midfield in high school, I was used to going over to the defensive side. But I never played goalie at all, so that was a little frightening.”
Emily, meanwhile, has been steady at attack for Sacred Heart and has some nice accolades. She earned her first All-Northeast Conference first-team honors last season after being named to the second team the season before. She led Sacred Heart as a junior with 71 points on 28 goals and 43 assists, which was a school record. She was second in the conference in both points per game (4.44) and assists per game (2.69), and she ranked fifth in the country in both categories as well.
Sacred Heart head coach Laura Cook said that Emily and Megan both lead the team not only on the field but with their work ethic as well. “They’re really our workhorses of the team,” she said. “They work hard and come ready to play. It’s obvious they grew up in a lacrosse family, and they just have the mentality that they’re going to outwork people, and they do a great job of that. ... They’re always the first ones here at the athletic facility at about 10 a.m. They’re just always here and ready to go and ready to play lacrosse. They just love the game.”
Sacred Heart has gotten off to a slow start so far this season, losing non-conference games to Iona and Holy Cross. But the season is just getting under way.
The twins are almost ready to graduate and have ideas of what they would like to do in the future. Megan, a psychology major, is thinking of going into the field of education, possibly as a school guidance counselor. Emily, a media studies major, is thinking of heading into either sports broadcasting or sports analysis. Both sisters are interested in getting graduate assistant positions so they can become coaches at the college level.