Defending her turf

You pick up the paper or watch Sports Center, you will see highlights of the pretty goals by the forwards and midfielders. What you won’t see is the gritty play by the defense. While the forwards get all the love, the defense is what win championships.

The other team can’t win a game if they don’t score. Fans will be fixated on watching the attacking players. But if you sit back and watch a game, take a look at the beauty it takes to play on defense. Defenders have to be able to keep their marks or the attacking players can make the plays they need to make.

One wrong step could lead to a goal in the box. One bad angle could lead to a great cross in the box for a goal. Not every child grows up saying they want to be a defender. The ones that embrace that side of the field are the ones that can dominate a game.

On a team loaded with stars, Alexa Chiarenza might not standout – and that’s fine with her. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t play one of the sexy positions on the field. She just roles her sleeves up and gets dirty – making sure she stops the other team’s best player.

Chiarenza is one of the best defenders in Western New York, on one of the best teams in WNY. She has helped Grand Island knock off teams like Williamsville East in the sectional playoffs a year ago. She helped shutdown Marissa Birzon a year ago, and is causing all kinds of trouble this year for opposing teams.

Her physical, smart, play is a reason why she will be taking her talents to the University at Buffalo next year. The Bulls are one of the better Division I women’s school in the northeast, and Chiarenza will now be trading in her blue and white of Grand Island for the blue and white of the Bulls.

“The recruiting process for me was very exciting. I loved talking with the coaches and learning about their teams. It was an honor for me to have several Division I schools interested in having me play for their programs,” stated Chiarenza. “The University at Buffalo was the perfect fit for me and it was something I felt right away. The UB Bulls have an excellent coaching staff and facility. I also loved the beautiful campus and variety of curriculum choices the colleges had to offer. I am really excited to continue my soccer career at UB.”

From a young age, Chiarenza has always embraced any position on the field. Whether it was in the midfield or defense, Chiarenza would give it her best effort. But, as the years went on, Chiarenza started to settle in on defense – which was bad news for opposing players.
Knowing what the position entailed, Chiarenza knew to be one of the best in

WNY she would have to on everything from speed to strength to communication. The only way to get better was to train with the best. That’s why her and her family made the decision to go to the Western New York Flash. The Flash is one of the premier soccer academies in the area – and they have sent many a top player on to Division I and II schools.

“I believe that being a solid defender is a combination of speed, strength, agility and communication. You need to work well with other teammates in the backfield and always cover for each other,” stated Chiarenza. “I chose to play for the WNY Flash Academy because they offer exceptional training to prepare athletes for college competition. Playing at a higher level will only improve my skills for the future.”

To be an elite player, Chiarenza knows no offseason. She isn’t at the beach during the summer with the rest of her friends. Instead she is working on craft. She is trying to become the best defender she can be, and the best defender in WNY.

Chiarenza works hard during the winter as well with the Flash. Training is important as she is looking to be a contributor for her high school team, Flash academy team and her future teammates at the University at Buffalo.

“I really don’t get an offseason. I go from high school soccer to premier, and when I am not training with one team or the other, I am working out at Proformance Sports Training to increase my speed and strength,” Chiarenza. “It’s pretty much a year-long season with the exception of a couple weeks. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Her love of the game is evident in how she plays. You know when Chiarenza is on the field. She won’t back down from anyone and isn’t intimated by anyone. She will take on the other team’s best player and try and shut them down.

If she somehow gets beat on the play, don’t worry, that’s Chiarenza sprinting down to get the ball. As a coach, you don’t have to worry about Chiarenza taking a day off on the field. She will go from whistle to whistle every game – and it shows.

“Defense gets a ton of love from me,” stated Chiarenza. “What excites me the most is chasing down an opponent on a breakaway, and shutting them down before they get an opportunity to score. I have had the privilege to play with and against some really talented athletes, both during my premier and high school soccer seasons. Before every Grand Island game, coach Bowman and coach Kuehne talk to the defense about what are game play is going to be defensively. We all work really well together and communicate all game long to accomplish our goals.

Communication is key if you want to be a solid defender. Being able to make sure the right play is mark, and communicating that to other two or three defenders is the difference between a win or a loss. Over the years on varsity, Chiarenza has had the opportunity to play with some great players on the Island.

She has been able to take away a little bit of knowledge from each player as she looks to improve her game.

“Throughout my career, I have had the privilege to play with many girls that I look up to,” said Chiarenza. “One of them being my cousin, Giana, who graduated last year. Playing defense with her for two years side-by-side for the Vikings is something I will always cherish.”

Chiarenza will also cherish the time that her family has given up for her to realize her dreams. Many a summer vacation was missed, or not had at all, so Chiarenza could go to tournaments with the Flash out of state.

Many a day was spent watching Chiarenza achieve her dreams. Many a practice was driven to during snow storms, and when the Grand Island Bridge is under construction. The time she was able to spend with her family was priceless, and something Chiarenza will cherish for the rest of her life.

“My family is the best. They have all supported me every step of the way. My older brother, Vinny, plays college baseball and still finds time to cheer me on after every practice. And, my younger brother, Johnny, is the ball boy for almost every Grand Island home game,” stated Chiarenza. “He always cheers us on from the sidelines. My parents and grandparents are always there to support me, and they are all my biggest fans. Whether we are traveling to tournaments out of town, or driving to practice, they are always there by my side encouraging me to do my best.”

Her best will lead Chiarenza on to the campus of the University at Buffalo – and MAC forwards better be prepared.