North Shore's Eliza Ritter during lacrosse practice on March 23.

North Shore's Eliza Ritter during lacrosse practice on March 23. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

To be a defender on a lacrosse field on Long Island is a daunting task.

You are going up against some of the best playmakers in the country every game. Completely stopping them is next to impossible. Your best hope is to disrupt, contain and ensure nothing comes easy to the scorer.

And many times, if you do your job perfectly, by the time your team has the ball back in the offensive zone, it can be forgotten.

“If you do your job, it might go unnoticed sometimes because if you are stopping someone, that’s what you are supposed to do — that’s what everyone thinks,” said Taylor Cullen, a senior defender for St. Anthony’s. “But if you just know in your mind after you stopped someone, ‘That was a good play and I’m doing this for the greater good,’ you’ll be so successful.”

Cullen, who is committed to play at Michigan, is just one of many examples of the elite defenders on Long Island. It’s common for those dominating the stat sheet to garner praise and recognition, but the girls defending the goal know they are just as pivotal to delivering victories.

“It’s hard sometimes when you look at all the offensive players and see they are getting all the praise for all the goals they are scoring,” Cullen said. “But when it comes down to the championship game, you’re not winning that championship if your defense isn’t playing well and that’s the bottom line.”

Cullen was a midfielder when she started playing lacrosse. But she quickly realized she was getting the most joy and satisfaction by creating havoc on the defensive side, so she wanted to focus there full time.

“I definitely never cared about scoring goals or assisting or anything stat-wise,” Cullen said. “I just really loved playing defense on people, stopping people, making interceptions and making those big plays that can change a game around — even if they don’t always end up in a stats book.”

Eliza Ritter, a junior defender for North Shore, credits the hours of competing against top offensive players to improving her game. She competes every day against elite playmakers, and that translates into games.

“You know you are going to be matched against a really good girl and you may get nervous, but it really makes you better,” Ritter said. “At practice, you always want to be on the girls that want to go to goal and make good plays because it makes you that much better.”

Alexa Carannante, a senior defender for Mount Sinai, is fortunate enough to play with one of the top defensive units on Long Island, which also includes Division-I commits in Jordan DeBlasio and Delilah Mile. Their chemistry keeps the Mustangs in every game.

“I really like the teamwork aspect of it,” said Carannante, committed to play at Pittsburgh. “Defense can be a well-oiled machine, especially when you play with other really good defenders like I do. You can rely on your other teammates to be there and be your backup and other teammates can rely on me.”

But even the best chemistry in the world can’t completely eliminate a scorer.

“Sometimes you have to tip your cap because they do some super great things,” Carannante said. “Sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it. But it’s always really uplifting for you when you challenge and stop them.”

Carannante said she loves those moments when she finds herself in a 1-on-1 situation. As uncomfortable as it could be knowing it all comes down to you, the euphoria of making the stop is unmatched.

“There’s nothing like it,” she said. “Knowing that you brought all your stuff together and you broke down and stopped her, it’s honestly my favorite feeling.”

Competition drives all elite defenders. That competition could come from the scoreboard or comparing themselves to their peers.

“I’ve played with so many great defenders,” Cullen said. “Overall I would say defenders don’t get noticed much. But I’m so fortunate to be playing with these top defenders because it motivates me every day. I want to be better than the next girl on the Island, better than the next girl in the country.”

All three defenders embrace the opportunities to play against the best. They know as difficult as it is to contain the elite scorers, nothing quite compares to the feeling of seeing their visual frustration. And eventually, others will notice.

“Whatever you are doing on defense to stop those top players, you’ll eventually get noticed because if you take a top player out of the game, they won’t be in the stat line,” Cullen said. “They won’t have those goals, assists and it’s just that mindset of, ‘I want to take that top player out of the stat line,’ instead of, ‘I want to be in it.’”

20 pure defenders to watch this spring

Alexa Carannante, Mt. Sinai

Gretel Cassell, Huntington

Alexa Constant, Shoreham-Wading River

Taylor Cullen, St. Anthony’s

Mikayla Danon, Oceanside

Jordan DeBlasio, Mt. Sinai

Lauren Dunne, Eastport-South Manor

Despina Giannakopolous, Manhasset

Mia Juvelier, Middle Country

Bella Lanza, Commack

Reilly Mahon, Westhampton

Delilah Mile, Mt. Sinai

Lauren Molinaro, Miller Place

Emily Murtha, Floyd

Eliza Ritter, North Shore

Alexandra Schneider, Manhasset

Brianna Wendling, Bethpage

Madison Weybrecht, Bayport-Blue Point

Alyssa Wolf, Bellport

Natasha Yajadda, Sayville


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