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Kinniry, Pandas ready for season

Kayla Kinniry has started since her freshman year. Now she’s a senior and ready to be a leader. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

When Kayla Kinniry’s teammates need her, she’s right there.

Even if it means mom has to buy a bigger pot.

Kinniry is a senior midfielder and captain on the Nazareth Academy High School soccer team. And being a senior captain comes with a lot of responsibilities. One of the biggest ones was to make sure her team loads up on carbs to get ready for the season.

“We have a pasta party every year, one of the seniors hosts it,” said Kinniry, who lives in Bensalem. “This year I hosted it, just like my sister (Kirstyn, 2020 graduate) did her senior year. It was a lot of fun to host. Everyone contributes and brings food.

“We have two seniors (Jenna Garzone the other) so our moms do the cooking, but everyone contributed. They cooked and we went in the pool. It was so much fun. It’s a great team-bonding experience.”

The Pandas might not need too many team-bonding experiences because this group is the definition of team.

With only two seniors on the roster, Kinniry knows it’s her job to make sure the team is united, but so far she hasn’t had to work too hard at it. This group couldn’t be any closer.

“That’s the best thing about this team, we are really a team,” said Kinniry, who lives in Bensalem. “There’s no groups separate from the rest of the team. We all hang out with each other. We love being around each other.”

That’s why Kinniry hopes she has a long season with her squad.

The Pandas have a very talented team, and their goal is to keep this year rolling as long as they can.

“We want to win so we can keep playing, into the playoffs,” Kinniry said. “High school goes by so fast. I really want to get as much out of this year as possible.”

If the Pandas are successful, they’ll need to lean on Kinniry.

Last year a defender, Kinniry has moved to midfield and this year she’s going to be responsible for getting the offense going. As a defender, she scored a goal last year, but the bulk of her time was spent keeping the other teams at bay.

During scrimmages, she scored a goal and helped set up teammates for other chances. It’s been a great start for the new position.

“I love to score, but I’ll play anywhere (coach Dan Bradley) wants me,” Kinniry said. “We had a team-bonding thing where we all talked about our individual goals and mine was to help the offense. It’s fun. When you play defense, you allow goals, which is tough. Scoring goals feels great. But I want to score more because it helps the team.”

Kinniry is also having fun because she takes her role as mentor very seriously.

She’s had plenty of great leaders to look up to during her time at Nazareth, but the best might have been her sister, who has been her leader for as long as she can remember. And now she’s paying it forward.

“I remember when I was a freshman, we had the best leaders, and I looked up to all of them,” Kinniry said. “My sister has always been a great leader. I remember how the seniors made soccer fun. Now that I’m a senior, I want to make sure the younger girls are having fun. I want them to remember this year so when they’re seniors, they can do the same thing.”

Kinniry isn’t just a leader on the soccer field.

In school, she’s a member of student council, and the National Honor Society. She’s also one of the executives of Naz-a-Thon, a dance marathon that raises money for children battling cancer.

She also helped start a club that is very dear to her heart, Panda Stand Up, a club against domestic violence.

The club started during Kinniry’s sophomore year in memory of Morgan McCaffery, a Nazareth grad who was killed by her ex-boyfriend.

“It’s a club against domestic violence, and it’s something I wanted to do because Morgan was very close friends with my sister and I consider all of my sister’s friends almost my sister,” Kinniry said. “Morgan’s family started a charity, Morgan’s Light, but they love that we’re doing this. We do it to honor the memory of Morgan. She was a great person.

“I’m glad we started the club to honor her, but it’s also good because her family likes it. They’ve been through a lot. It might sound corny, but I know her family loves seeing Nazareth do things to honor her, so it makes me feel good to see them happy.

“It’s been a rough two years since it’s happened, but it’s so good to see how much awareness is spread in her name and in her honor. She was a great person, a huge inspiration in my life.”

While Kinniry’s plate is full with sports and activities, she is also getting around to looking at colleges. She knows she wants to play soccer, and she’s leaning toward studying something where she can stay involved in sports.

“I know I want to play college soccer, I’m starting to try to finalize it and figure out where I’ll be playing,” said Kinniry, who also has a job working at Acme. “I think I want to major in sports and exercise physiology. I love sports. I’m doing a lot of research. I’m not sure what I want to do, but I’m thinking I might like going into the medicine end of it.”

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