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Cohesiveness + personality + lack of egos = one stingy defensive unit

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GROTON — The Groton-Dunstable girls soccer team has been a pleasant surprise this season, putting together a 5-3-2 record in its first 10 games. The key to the Lady Crusaders’ success has been a defense that has been stingy to a fault. Over those 10 games, the team allowed only 10 goals, five in one game against potent Nashoba, and just five in the other nine contests.

“There is no question the defense has been the key to our good start,” said Groton-Dunstable coach Sue Hilbrunner. “They have exceeded all expectations and this is the best defensive group we have had since I have been here.”

The Lady Crusaders’ defensive corps consists of sophomore goaltender Kailyn Rekos, junior sweeper Rachel Silveria, senior fullbacks Leah Markham and Abbie Stark, and junior stopper Kayla Meijer. They are a unique combination of personalities, playing styles and experience levels that has blended into a cohesive unit.

“They went to camp together this summer,” said Hilbrunner. “That is where the unit started and through pre-season and the early season games it just keeps on improving because of their ability to work together. Each girl understands her responsibilities and there are no egos in place. The girls know their limitations and will do whatever is needed to adjust to a situation. The sum of the whole is greater than the parts.”

Rekos may only be a sophomore, but she has plenty of experience in high-level soccer.

“Kailyn became the starter near the end of last season,” said Hilbrunner. “She plays for the Stars of Massachusetts, which is one of the best club teams in the state. She is in the Olympic Development Program, and has made it into the Regional pool. She is tall, athletic and has a good wing span. She is still young but is growing into a leadership role. She has good communication skills and a strong foot which is good for field position. She is fundamentally sound and plays angles well. She has the highest level of training of any of our defenders and she has done everything I have asked from her. Other coaches are starting to comment about her play.”

Silveria was a utility player as a sophomore but is the starting sweeper this season.

“Rachel is not a prototypical sweeper,” said Hilbrunner. “She is all about heart, intensity and will to win. She has decent speed and is hard working and versatile. She works well with others and is a team player. She is coachable and willing to learn. Rachel has continued to improve because she understands that hard work at practice is a large part of it.”

Markham (left) and Stark (right) have been outstanding as the starting fullbacks.

“Leah went from a part-time player last season to a starter this year who plays almost every minute,” said Hilbrunner. “She was an outside midfielder last season but she has taken to the move to fullback and I think her being a lacrosse defender has helped. Her midfield experience has come in handy as she can jump start the offense and get it into transition. She is a tough kid who gets knocked down and gets right back up. She is a no-frills player, who never complains and just wants to play.

“Abbie is a three-year starter and she is tall and has great speed,” said Hilbrunner. “She is our fastest defender and has the ability to catch up to plays. She is a gamer, not a practice player. She is a great athlete who is a starter on the lacrosse team and her soccer ability has grown immensely over the past three years. She is probably the toughest kid on the team and she makes her presence felt. Abbie is loaded with personality and she is the team joker who helps keep things loose.”

Meijer is a returning starter at stopper.

“Kayla is our best player in the air and she does a great job of heading the ball both in and out of the zone,” said Hilbrunner.

“She is tough to beat one-on-one and forces opponents to go outside. She has great size and we use that on our corner kicks in front of the net. Kayla is a team unifer, everyone on the team loves her and listens to her. She is team joker 1B and is one of the funniest kids I have ever been around, and you never hear a negative word from her.”

What makes this group click?

“It is a group effort and the girls on our defensive unit really have a combination of different strengths that blend together,” said Hilbrunner.

“These girls all understand their strengths and play to them,” said Groton-Dunstable Athletic Director Steve Kleeman.

“They complement each other well, and each is concerned about doing her job while trusting her teammates to do theirs.”

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