Track and field

Middle ground: Rhinebeck's Cassens, John Jay's Theiller among area's top midfielders

John Jay's Erin Theiller, right, and Arlington's Rachel Moran battle for control of the ball during a Sept. 22, 2015 game at John Jay.

John Jay’s Erin Theiller, right, and Arlington’s Rachel Moran battle for control of the ball during a Sept. 22, 2015 game at John Jay.

It’s somewhat like a pre-snap read for a quarterback. Quickly scanning the field, with an understanding of where teammates are and an anticipation of where they will be, while attempting to decipher the defense and spot a weakness.

The difference for a soccer midfielder is that there is no snap count or play clock. This surveying is done while in an almost constant motion, with opponents kicking at the ball.

“If you can control the midfield, you dictate the pace of the game,” said Erin Theiller, a star midfielder for the John Jay High School girls soccer team. “You really have to do a little of everything — setting up the offense, helping out the defense, and then connecting the two.”

As the anchors in the center of the pitch — often in the middle of the action — several local coaches agreed that the middies are most crucial to the success of a team.

There are a number of standouts in the area, including Haldane’s Marissa Lisikatos and Rossella Graniero of Roy C. Ketcham. Here, we’ll highlight a few.

Middle ground: Spackenkill’s Kaufman, Arlington’s Battistoni among leaders on the pitch

Rhinebeck High School's Stephanie Cassens, left, runs past a Spackenkill player on Oct. 6 at Spackenkill.

Rhinebeck High School’s Stephanie Cassens, left, runs past a Spackenkill player on Oct. 6 at Spackenkill.

Stephanie Cassens, Rhinebeck, junior

Cassens qualified for the state track and field tournament in the 200 and 400 meters. As difficult as her speed is to contend with for opponents on the starting blocks, it is so too for defenders on the soccer field. She frequently penetrates defenses and orchestrates for a high-powered attack.

“She’s absolutely lightning,” Hawks coach Matt Grande said. “That speed is something to be seen.”

Teammate Marissa Giamportone has excelled in the midfield alongside Cassens. Her athleticism, physicality and deft first touch make her effective, Grande said. Giamportone’s passing also is a great complement to her older sister, Michelle, who is a dominant finisher.

Erin Theiller, John Jay, senior

As Theiller said, the position requires her to do a little of everything. And she does a lot of it well. She is the Patriots leading scorer with seven goals and seven assists, their vocal leader and on-field coordinator, and a defensive whiz. How good? Theiller was invited to a U.S. Soccer Under-17 regional tryout next month … as a center back.

At 5-foot-8, Theiller combines size, athleticism and smarts with the skill of a finesse player as she leads the defending Section 1 Class AA champs.

“We love her vision, calmness, how she wins the ball in the air,” Patriots coach C.J. Greenwood said. “She holds the ball well and organizes everything.”

Spackenkill midfielder Maria Barefoot dribbles the ball against Rhinebeck on Oct. 6 at Spackenkill.

Spackenkill midfielder Maria Barefoot dribbles the ball against Rhinebeck on Oct. 6 at Spackenkill.

Maria Barefoot, Spackenkill, junior

Barefoot’s impact is far more evident on the field than it is on stat sheets. Teammates love her game, and rivals respect it.

“She calms the entire game down and is extremely dependable,” teammate Caitlin Speranza said. “Her passes are always accurate and she is so selfless. Her control of the middle is vital for our success.”

The center-midfielder is aggressive and tenacious on defense, reads the field well and her pinpoint passes often initiate the offense for a Spartans team that has won five straight Section 9 Class B titles.

“She might be the best passer in the league,” Grande said. “And she’s always so cool. It’s like she doesn’t break a sweat.”

Erin Metzger, New Paltz, junior

With her game sense, vision and passing instincts (especially on through balls) Metzger essentially serves as the point guard for the high-scoring Huguenots. She has four goals and 10 assists thus far, and a bit of her success is reflected in the 30-plus goals that teammate Cerissa DiValentino has scored. Metzger consistently creates scoring chances and is able to track back well defensively.

“She’s not very fast — we don’t have that in the family,” joked New Paltz coach Joann Metzger, who is Erin’s mother. “But she’s gotten a lot stronger and her tackling of the ball is good.”

Hannah Sullivan, Marlboro, junior

Sullivan is somewhat of a hybrid forward. She’s an attacking midfielder who often maneuvers through defenses, crashes the box and peppers the goal.

A First-Team Journal All Star selection as a sophomore, Sullivan has 20 goals and seven assists for the Iron Dukes this season. She combines excellent footwork — including scissors and rollover dribbles — and has what coach Keith Walker called “elite-level speed.” And, with games in hand, Walker said, Sullivan willingly drops back and focuses on defense.

Isabelle LaBarbera, Red Hook, senior

Like Sullivan, LaBarbera is an attacking middie and has become a scoring machine. She has 36 goals already this season. Her speed allows her to pull ahead of the pack on breakaways and her powerful kicks and ambidextrous skill make her an excellent finisher.

“She has tremendous speed to break through the last line of defense and she can bomb from long distance,” Raiders coach Jason Pavlich said. “She can track the ball in the defensive third then immediately move it up field and turn it into an opportunity for us.”

Stephen Haynes:, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4