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SportsHigh SchoolGirls Soccer

Give credit to girls soccer defenders for hustling, distributing, protecting

Lindenhurst's Rebecca Conway clears the ball in the

Lindenhurst's Rebecca Conway clears the ball in the first half against Half Hollow Hills East on Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Forwards get credit for scoring goals. Goalkeepers get credit for recording shutouts. Defenders get credit for . . . well, it's hard to say.

They often don't get the credit they deserve. Yet they're usually the ones who create the scoring plays and who limit the number of saves that need to be made.

It can be a thankless position at times. A defender's contributions aren't quantifiable. Their names rarely show up in box scores or headlines, their game-saving plays are not as recognizable as a goal or a save.

"I like the saying, 'Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships,' " said Amanda Milazzo, a defender for Ward Melville.

It was the county championship game and there was nothing between Player of the Year, Kristin Desmond, and the keeper but open field. Milazzo sprinted in from midfield, caught up to the speedy Desmond at the 18-yard box, and blocked her shot.

Give credit to defenders for hustling.

"Defense is a noncredit position," she said. "I determine my success on whether my player gets opportunities."

Plainedge's Allyson Baner won the ball in the backfield. Rather than booting the ball down field, Baner and fellow defender Erin Purack demonstrated their foot skills with a series of precise passes to advance the ball and find a teammate.

Give credit to defenders for distributing.

"You always see the players who score," Baner said, "but if a defender isn't getting the ball to them, nothing would have happened."

Rebecca Conway of Lindenhurst sees plays before they happen. In need of possession, a 50/50 ball was up for grabs. Like a game of chess, Conway watched and waited for her opponent to react, positioned herself accordingly, and shielded her off the ball to gain possession.

Give credit to defenders for anticipating.

"We don't need anyone to tell us we're good," Conway said. "If you know personally that the ball never got by you, it's a great feeling."

Sacred Heart's Reilly Lucas was alone in front of the net. The keeper had come off the line during a scramble in the box and Lucas dropped back. When a low shot was fired, she was there to stop it.

Give credit to defenders for protecting.

"Defenders are the root of a team's success," Lucas said. "It calls for a special type of player. You see the whole field so you have to be a leader and tell people where to go. I like having that responsibility."

Wantagh's Tori Flaherty went on a 100-yard dash. Nursing a one-goal lead with three minutes remaining, she served a corner kick that turned into an odd-man rush the other way. Flaherty ran back to the front of her net, where she intercepted a cross and cleared the ball to seal the win.

Give credit to defenders for reacting.

"If I'm protecting my net safely, I did my job," Flaherty said. "When my teammates score, if the play started with me and got to their feet, I feel successful."

Garden City's Deanna DiPierro was prepared to sacrifice her body to prevent a goal. With a forward approaching the net, DiPierro made a sliding tackle to knock the ball loose and break up a scoring opportunity. One goal can save a game. One game can save a state championship, which the Trojans went on to win.

Give credit to defenders for tackling.

"I like being the last line of defense," DiPierro said. "When you get the ball off an offender's feet, it's very thrilling to me.

A forward can't score without the ball. Hauppauge's Hannah Kaplan, responsible for marking the opposing team's top offensive threat, used ball denial to limit opportunities. When her opponent did get the ball, she made sure she couldn't turn.

Give credit to defenders for containing.

"I make it very difficult for them take a clear shot," Kaplan said. "And I feel very satisfied doing what I'm doing."

One of Long Island's best strikers charged downfield with only one defender to beat in the Long Island championship. But Islip's Brooke Skahan came out of nowhere to make a tackle, sending the ball out of bounds and thwarting a breakaway.

Give credit to defenders for denying. "Speed is a big factor," Skahan said. "When it's one-on-one, you need to be able to chase down players. A good defender knows where everyone is at all times."

Occasionally, a defender's name does end up in the box score. That was the case for Massapequa's Mackenzie Palmer, whose free kick set up the winning goal in the state championship game last year. Defenders can be threats on set pieces, and they often take advantage of those opportunities.

Give credit to defenders for capitalizing.

"I'd still rather stop a goal than score one," said Palmer, who shifted from defense to midfield this season. "You're having a good game if you're not putting your team in any danger."

Megan Yaeger of St. John the Baptist -- the defending state CHSAA champions -- made a textbook tackle to stop a goal on one end, and served a perfect ball down the line to create a goal on the other.

Give credit to defenders for transitioning.

"Defenders are the unsung heroes of every great team," Yaeger said. "On headlines, you always see who scored the big goal, meanwhile it all starts with the defense. Those little plays we make throughout the game are often overlooked. But without a great defense, there's no way you can win big games or championships."

Give credit to defenders for winning.

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