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Kayla Kyff plays basketball, softball and boys hockey for St. John the Baptist

St. John the Baptist senior and multisport athlete

St. John the Baptist senior and multisport athlete Kayla Kyff poses for a portrait outside of the school on Jan. 29, 2014. Credit: James Escher

When St. John the Baptist High School senior Kayla Kyff was up doing homework until 1 a.m., it wasn't because of procrastination.

It was because the three-sport athlete didn't get home from her busy day until after 11 p.m.

It was a day that included school, a softball workout, basketball practice and a hockey game that started at 9 p.m.

Most impressive, perhaps, is that the 5-3, 125-pound Kyff plays hockey on the boys team because there isn't a girls team.

"I'm drained, but not too drained that I can't do my work," said Kyff, who added that she has a 97 average. "I would never consider giving any of the sports up."

Kyff was 4 years old when her mother began taking her ice skating on weekends. She started to take lessons, and at the age of 6, she had a decision to make.

"At that point, they are split between figure skaters and hockey skaters," said Kyff's mother, Emilia, who became interested in hockey during the Islanders' Stanley Cup dynasty in the 1980s. "She wanted nothing to do with figure skating. That's when she went down the hockey path."

That path began with her playing in house leagues at The Rinx in Hauppauge and on girls travel teams. It led her to the boys junior varsity team at St. John the Baptist, where hockey is a club sport. She played for two seasons before making varsity this season.

Kyff, 17, of East Islip, also plays for the Lady Islanders, a women's travel ice hockey organization.

Whereas the boys game is faster, she says the girls game is more strategic. So it's with the Islanders that Kyff shows off some of her more creative moves.

Kyff plays right wing on the third line for the Cougars, who won the league title but lost to Smithtown in the county championship game. She gives up strength, size and speed to her opponents but compensates in other ways.

"She's very fundamentally sound," SJB coach Tom Fuccillo said. "She's not as powerful as the guys so she may not be as fast, but her technique is very good. She skates well and handles the puck well. From playing with the women, she knows where to be out there."

She also knows where to be when she's on the softball field and the basketball court. She is a catcher on the softball team and plays a limited role on the Cougars' basketball team as a combo guard coming off the bench. But her work ethic has been an inspiration to teammates.

"Whether you give her three minutes or 15 minutes in a game, she's going to play hard until she drops," said Bruce Haller, her basketball coach. "Physical contact is not foreign to her. On a loose ball, I know she'll be in the middle of it, whereas some of my other kids are like, 'Hmm, I might get bumped.' "

The toughest "bump" Kyff has endured this season, she said, was during a hockey game against Half Hollow Hills in December. She was blindsided and knocked off her feet, and she struck her head on the ice. She got right back to her feet but later learned she had a mild concussion and missed three weeks.

"It hurt a little," she said, "but I just kind of shook it off. I can take a hit. I'm not just this tiny girl that gets thrown everywhere. I get back up and skate the same as I did before."

When things do get a little too rough, she knows her teammates have her back. Namely Phil Zucchi, a 6-2, 200-pound winger. "My job half the time is to go out there and hit people," he said. "If it means throwing an extra hit for Kayla, then so be it . . . For me, it's like playing alongside any other player."

Center Matt O'Shaughnessy knows that if he makes a mistake on the ice, he's going to get an earful. "She yells at us when we take penalties," he said. "She knows the game and the positions that we need to be in."

Added goalkeeper Austin Francois: "She plays with a lot of class . . . and she plays every shift like it's the last shift of the game."

Kyff may not be nervous while out on the ice, but the same can't always be said for some watching from the stands. "Sometimes I do get nervous just from seeing some of the hits," said her father, Ed. "But she's out there to play. She's going to have to take her licks just like anyone else, within reason."

And she has.

"I know I'm small and I'm a girl, but I can still get the job done," Kyff said. "I don't want anyone to take me lightly, but sometimes they do. So I usually get back at them by showing them what I can do."

Ice skates on, hockey stick in hand.

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