Massapequa's Kirstyn Kilmeade kicks the ball during the state Class...

Massapequa's Kirstyn Kilmeade kicks the ball during the state Class AA final against Baldwinsville on Nov. 12, 2017. Credit: Heather Ainsworth/Heather Ainsworth

While goal scorers and goalkeepers may be the focal point in many girls soccer matchups, the defenders have an important role and are always waiting for their moment to disrupt the attack.

“When a forward’s coming at you, it’s like once she gets past you, it’s she and the goalie so if you mess up, it’s life or death, kind of,” Massapequa defender Kirstyn Kilmeade said. “It’s a thrill.”

Kilmeade said she and her teammates aren’t concerned about individual headlines, as the players on the field always know when they make a game-changing play.

“It honestly feels better sometimes than actually scoring a goal,” Massapequa midfielder Grace Bernardi said of breaking up a play. “I guess because your whole team is like ‘Wow, you literally saved us.’”

Bernardi, a four-year varsity player, is a defensive-minded midfielder committed to St. John’s University. She controls the middle of the field, working with the defense and orchestrates offensive runs for the Chiefs, who are looking to advance to their sixth straight state tournament.

While playing in the state semifinals her freshman season, Bernardi chased down a girl who had gotten past the entire defense, slid and stopped her from shooting.

“When you play defense, you have to read the player you’re going against and react to what she is doing,” Bernardi said. “So it’s more of reaction time and anticipating.”

Kayla Leary, a Newsday All-Long Island defender last season, emphasizes aggression when she’s a part of the East Meadow backline. She finds each play as a personal challenge, not wanting her opponent to get the edge.

“I would say that I’m really aggressive to ball, winning it in the air or whether it’s on the ground, I don’t wait for it,” Leary said. “I think it’s really because if you’re not aggressive, they can easily come around you. You have to be assertive to get the ball for yourself.”

Northport’s Izzy Yeomans, a three-year starting defender for the two-time defending Suffolk AA champions, said she likes how defense has a feel of “saving the day” and described herself as a player who performs better under more pressure, which is a constant on the defensive end.

“I love that actually,” Yeomans said. “I think it’s a lot more pressure and it’s extra motivation. You’re marking this amazing girl and once you get the ball from her, it’s a really good feeling.”

With Massapequa returning the majority of its defense -- and eight starters overall -- the Chiefs hope a defensive approach with timely scoring will lead to another championship.

East Meadow, one of Massapequa‘s toughest competitors this season, will rely largely on Leary to keep opponents off guard with hopes of winning its first county title since 1990.

Both teams hope to play to the adage: Defense wins championships.

“We’re the last line of defense,” Massapequa defender Brenna Brown said. “So if we mess up, all we have is one person and that’s our goalie to help us. So to have that responsibility in a way is good to know we’re such a huge part of the team.”


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