Kieran Nish is a midfielder by choice, a senior at Mattituck High School by class, and most of all, a good teammate.
So, when the Mattituck Bears under-17 team coach, Steve Tettelbach, asked for volunteers to replace injured goalkeeper Austin Scoggin in the spring, Nish’s hand immediately went up. He would end up using both hands to make some vital saves for the Bears.
Little did Nish know it would go beyond a one-game deal. He went on to backstop the Bears to the final of the Needham (Mass.) Memorial Day Tournament and to the boys U-17 crown of the Long Island Junior Soccer League cup competition.
During the summer months, Nish has found himself tending goal for the Mattituck team in the Town of Brookhaven Summer League while Scoggin recovers from a back injury.
While undermanned Mattituck lost to Miller Place, 2-1, in Medford on Friday (the Tuckers had no substitutes while their opposition had several), Nish acquitted himself well, making close to a dozen saves.
“Our defense is really strong,” Nish said. “Today we didn’t have all our players. It didn’t really work out.”
But it certainly has worked out for Nish, who was pressed into action with the Bears after Scoggin went down.
“We were looking for volunteers,” said Tettelbach, who coaches Mattituck in the summer league. “We tried to recruit goalies from other schools. That didn’t pan out. We asked for volunteers. A few guys said, ‘Oh, I’ll play a half.’ Kieran stepped up and every time when I asked for a volunteer, Kieran raised his hand and did a great job. Since that time, we had another player come in and play goal for us, Connor Egan. He did a good job. Connor was not able to go to the tournament. So Kieran again raised his hand and said, ‘Yes, I will be the one.’ We appreciated that.”
During the Memorial Day tournament in Massachusetts, the Bears won their first three matches, but needed to win the semifinals by penalty kicks. Despite his relative inexperience in the net, Nish turned out to be the hero by stopping two spot kicks.
“I’m not nervous anymore,” he said. “I’ve been through everything — the PKs. It was nerve-racking. I just feel confident now that I can save shots.”
Nish had watched Mattituck keeper Cody Huntley, now graduated and headed to play for Cincinnati, excel during penalty-kick shootouts in the Suffolk County and New York postseason tournaments last fall.
“He won three games on penalty kicks,” he said. “He did great. I can only imagine what that felt like. In the [youth] tournament we were playing in, we weren’t playing premier, premier teams.”
But a win is a win and a penalty-kick save is a penalty-kick save.
“It felt amazing,” Nish said. “I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like in school ball.”
Nish probably won’t get an opportunity to find out because Scoggin is expected to return for the scholastic season.
“I don’t know how much longer I will be playing for,” Nish said. “He’s supposed to be our starting goalie. I’m not sure what Coach is going to say. I’ll be playing goalie until he’s better.”
When everything returns to normal, Nish figures he will be the first or second player off the bench. He is an outside midfielder who can handle both flanks.
Playing in goal has given Nish a different perspective to the game. He has seen the game from a different angle, which he felt will help him when he plays the field.
“You really get an understanding of the game seeing it,” he said. “You see what players are doing wrong, what they’re doing right — kind of like a coach. If you’re a field player in goal, you see what you should be doing better also because you get to the see the game while you’re still playing.
“When I come back to play the field I will be ready to go.”
While Nish allowed two goals against Miller Place, Tettelbach did not think the goals were the keeper’s fault.
“I was very pleased with the way Kieran played,” he said. “The first goal, I don’t think there was anything he could have done about that. It was kind of a breakdown. The second goal, sometimes you’ve got to tip your hat to the other team. It was just a nice shot. He put it right in the corner.”
Nish and his teammates hope they will be able to build on last year’s season in which the Tuckers captured the Suffolk Class B title before falling to John S. Burke Catholic in the state regionals.
“I think we have a great team,” he said. “It’s a lot different from last year. Last year was a very strong team. We would take the ball out, we would take hard shots. This year is more possession. We have more teamwork and stuff. I think we have just as good of a shot to make it.”
But right now Nish is having the time of his soccer life, excelling in a position that was foreign to him only a few months ago.
“It kind of makes me want to keep playing,” he said. “If it feels that good, you want to get that feeling again. You just don’t want to give up on it. After going back to the field, I’m almost kind of bored. If I’m not scoring goals and if I’m not saving goals, it’s kind of boring for me right now after you got that kind of rush feeling.”