Nazareth soccer captains persevere through thick and thin

Captains of the ship: Nazareth Academy seniors and soccer captains (left-right): Alexis Johncola, Alex Esposito, Alexis McCarthy-Prete, Kayla McNamee, Ashley Hunter and Nicole Phillips. ED MORRONE / TIMES PHOTO

Fractured shins, a torn ACL and multiple shoulder surgeries. Sprained ankles, a broken foot and mononucleosis. Suffice to say, the six senior captains for the Nazareth Academy soccer team have experienced it all together, from the highest peaks to the lowest valleys.

After Tuesday’s 3–2 Senior Day defeat to Villa Maria Academy, the Pandas stood at 3–11–1 overall and just 1–8–1 in the Catholic Academies League. They haven’t won in almost a month, yet spend some time with these six seniors and the takeaway is nothing but positive.

After all they’ve gone through these last four years together, the love and affection they have for one another trumps wins and losses. There’s much more to this group, they stressed, than what the standings indicate.

“We’ve gotten closer and closer as we’ve gone through absolutely everything together,” said midfielder Alexis McCarthy-Prete, one of the six. “Even through the toughest losses while many of us were injured, we’ve experienced as one. (Head coach Dan) Bradley always tells us to play to the very last second and never give up, because that reflects our character deep down. It teaches us mental toughness that we can use later in life.

“If we’re getting beat, we stay positive and depend on each other. The goal is to end our time here with pride, look in the mirror and say we gave it all we had. What we give on that field reflects our personalities, not how many games we’ve won.”

McCarthy-Prete deals with fractured shins that often prevent her from practicing so she can save her strength for game day. Her plight on this team is not uncommon, as these six seniors have all missed some time here and there over the course of the last two seasons. They’ve learned to rely on one another, to collectively pick each other up when someone else is ailing. It’s precisely why sharing the captain duties as a unit has grown to mean so much to each one of them.

“Some teams might have one or two captains, so maybe it’s unusual for us to have six,” said defender Nicole Phillips, who scored a Senior Day goal against Villa. “But it’s important for us to share that responsibility and depend on one another to have each other’s backs. I don’t think the scoreboard tells the story for how this group has performed, effort-wise. It’s not what the score says, but what we put into it. We never give up. This team gives me the confidence I know I’ll need going forward in life.”

McCarthy-Prete and Phillips — along with fellow captains Ashley Hunter (goalie), Alex Esposito and Alexis Johncola (defenders) and striker Kayla McNamee (who also scored against Villa) mdash; continue putting the work in despite injury, even though it would be understandable to pack it in for a team that is underperforming in the standings. But that wouldn’t be fair to the team’s plethora of underclassmen, who absorb what the current seniors are passing down like sponges. These captains are all about setting a positive example, which would explain why players such as McNamee are still playing despite suffering a torn ACL in her knee three weeks ago.

“I don’t practice on it so that I’m still able to help out in games,” McNamee said. “I just get taped up and go play. I think of these girls as my second family, and in no way does our record indicate what we’ve accomplished as a group. I wouldn’t want to be on any other team.”

Bradley, the school’s head coach and athletic director, marvels every day at what his six senior leaders give back to the Panda soccer program.

“Over the past year, they’ve all battled injuries but continued to be leaders to the underclass,” he said. “They’ve exceeded the expectations put on them as captains at Nazareth. These six have shared and celebrated so many of life’s victories, from getting their driver’s licenses to becoming captains.

“In the world of sports, we are often analyzed on wins and losses. But if they kept score for toughness, character, moral compass and compassion, these young ladies would be undefeated. They are young ladies who their parents and entire Nazareth community can be proud of.”

Because of the closeness of their bond, Senior Day was an emotional one for the Panda captains. And just because their record isn’t as strong, that doesn’t mean they’ll just pack it in and count down the days until the season ends.

Not these girls.

“I still want for us to get into districts and play well, which is still our main goal even if our record doesn’t look like it’s possible,” Johncola said. “We want to end on a positive note. After all, we are all still here together.”

The shared responsibilities is something the six will remember when graduation comes and goes, and they’ll never forget what they’ve been through as young women faced with obstacles and adversity.

“I think it shows that in life, things aren’t going to be handed to you,” McCarthy-Prete said. “You might not always get what you want, but if you want something in life and you work your hardest to achieve it, then that’s being successful. All of us are on the same page about that.”

Johncola concurred.

“These five showed me just how positive things can be no matter how bad the situation may seem,” she said. “I can think all the way back to our first tryout, and now look at all we’ve been through together. It’s crazy how quick the time went, but I couldn’t imagine being captains with anyone else.” ••