Kinniry leading Pandas, sister on field

Kayla Kinniry (left) is carrying her older sister Kirstyn to a great season at Nazareth. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Kirstyn Kinniry has always been tight with her younger sister.

But this year, the bond got that much stronger.

Kinniry is a senior midfielder on the Nazareth Academy High School soccer team, and she’s in her fourth year as a varsity player. Her sister, Kayla, is a freshman defender and following in her sister’s footsteps as a star player for the Pandas.

And while it’s fun because they’re winning together and it’s fun because they’re playing together, for Kirstyn, she’s just happy to have a stronger relationship with her younger sister in her final year of high school.

“We’ve always been close, but we’ve gotten so much closer by playing together,” said Kinniry, who lives in Bensalem. “I started as a freshman and I remember how hard it was so I do try to help her. We both play on the same side of the field so we work together, and I’m so happy we have this chance.”

The Kinnirys aren’t just playing together.

They’re helping the Pandas to a fantastic season.

Nazareth came into the season with high hopes and has very much lived up to them.

Despite playing in the always tough Catholic Academies League, the Pandas have won 16 games thus far, including going 7-3 in league play, which was good enough for second place behind Villa Joseph Marie. They also handed Villa Jo its only loss in league play.

Nazareth also picked up big wins over St. Hubert and a 4-0 triumph over Catholic League runner-up Archbishop Wood.

The Pandas also found postseason success on Friday when they defeated Villa Maria in the quarterfinals of the District One tournament in penalty kicks. Nazareth got a goal from Katie Harmon late in the game to tie it and won it on PKs.

Nazareth played Strath Haven in a game that was played after the Times went to press in the semifinals.

This year was exactly the way Kinniry wanted to go out with, but she’s not satisfied with it just yet.

“This has definitely been our best season so far,” said Kinniry, who has scored eight goals on the year. “We’ve just played really well together as a team. Honestly, I think the reason we’re playing so well is because of our teamwork. We really work well together, we’re all friends and this year, we knew we could have a great year if we did everything we could do. And we’re doing it.”

Kinniry wanted a strong senior campaign because she’s been a lifelong soccer player, having started playing when she was 3 years old. And because she has all that experience, she’s well respected by her teammates. She’s using that influence to help others, including her sister.

“My job on this team is to be the best leader I can be, and I’m trying to do that,” Kinniry said. “I have to set a good example and make sure everyone stays committed and never gives up. I’ve been trying to do that and be there for everyone.

“I think we’re all doing our best. I think we’ve been doing our best the whole season. We’re good and we’re playing well, but I think the best part about this team is we all play together and we all do our jobs out there.”

Kinniry also does her job away from the soccer field.

She maintains a 3.9 grade point average in the classroom and she’s a member of the National Honor Society. She also plays a huge role in one of the biggest events her school does each year as the senior director of Nazathon, a 12-hour dance marathon to raise awareness and funds for Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. This year, she’ll once again be joined by her sister, who plans on assisting with the campaign.

“It’s really important to me because I like helping others, especially children, and everything we do is for the kids in the hospital,” Kinniry said. “I’m going to dance, but I’m not a dancer. I’m just happy I’m able to do something to help people.”

When Nazathon ends, she’ll still have an eye on helping people.

Next year, Kinniry wants to go to college and major in nursing. Once again, it will give her an opportunity to help people get better.

“I’ve just always wanted to be a nurse,” said Kinniry, who is undecided about her future in soccer. “I want to be a nurse practitioner. I think it’s a great job. Every day, you get to go to work and help people get better. It’s something I really want to do.”

And while she’s studying how to do that, she’ll be watching her sister lead the Pandas.

She has high hopes for the rest of this season, and she also has high hopes for what Nazareth can do in the future.

“She’s going to be very good, she’ll be a great leader and player for them,” Kinniry said. “I’m happy I was able to play with her. She is a very good player, and there are other players who are going to be very good, too. They’ll definitely be good. I’m really proud of her.”