Mattituck/Greenport/Southold coach Matt Maloney was understandably a little uneasy about starting the high school girls lacrosse season with only 14 field players, among them a less than grand total of four defenders.
But that foursome — a senior, a junior and two sophomores — has been staunch. Early on, a nickname was born: the “Core Four.”
“They’re certainly the core of our defense and there’s four of them,” Maloney said. “I think they like it. It stuck.”
Meet senior Courtney Penny, junior Corinne Reda and sophomores Alex Beebe and Ashley Burns. They stand between opposing goal-hungry attackmen and Mattituck’s goal.
“We’re pretty much the only defenders and we’re a tight group,” said Penny.
Playing good defense isn’t as sexy as scoring goals or piling up assists and isn’t likely to make its way into highlights, but for a team to win, it’s essential. And yet, defense is often overlooked and underappreciated in a sport where goals can come at a frenzied pace.
“If there wasn’t us, there wouldn’t be a team,” Reda said. “We don’t have any other defenders, so they need us.”
Through Mattituck’s first seven games, it has conceded 44 goals, an average of 6.3 per game, while the offense has piled up 78 goals on the other side of the ledger.
“I think we’re playing really good,” Beebe said. “We did a little bit of winter work together and I think we came together.”
In a recent upset of defending state champion Eastport-South Manor, Mattituck held the Sharks to only one second-half goal.
Following a 15-8 defeat of visiting Sayville last Wednesday, Maloney said: “Our defense really clamped down. I think our defense has been doing a really nice job as a group.”
One thing the “Core Four,” a team within a team, can’t complain about is playing time. Unless a game is a blowout, they will be out there for the full 50 minutes, as was the case last Wednesday.
Maloney said he can pull up a couple of junior varsity defenders for practice. If the Tuckers ever got into a bind in a game, he said, he has athletic players he can move around to help shore up the defense.
In the meantime, the “Core Four” is getting the job done.
“From the beginning of the season, we’re just progressively growing every day, getting better,” Reda said. “It’s fun because there’s only the four of us and there’s no interchanging. I can tell who’s voice is who and who needs help and where to slide and when.”
A defender takes a different mindset into a game, that of stopping goals instead of scoring them. Burns said she has found that being a defender suits her personality. With the position comes an expectation of toughness. “You have to be a lot tougher to stand in front of someone with the ball,” she said.
Maloney said defense has been an area the team has strengthened since he took over as coach last year.
“In girls lacrosse, you see goals scored like no problem, and I think that our defense causes some turnovers,” he said. “They do some tricky things on the offensive team and I like it. I think the girls really like the relationship that we have. They know that I trust them out on the field defensively and they make the right decisions most of the time.”
Photo caption: Mattituck/Greenport/Southold’s defense has been bolstered by its ‘Core Four’ of defenders. From left, Alex Beebe, Courtney Penny, Ashley Burns and Corinne Reda. (Credit: Garret Meade)