The goalkeeper is such a specialized position that majority of high school soccer programs are lucky to have one backup capable of stepping into the lineup in the case of emergency.
But Brookline girls coach Robert Sprague has not one, but two seamless replacements waiting on his bench.
“It’s kind of an embarrassment of riches,” Sprague said.
When three-year starting goaltender Juliana Anastopoulos dove into a scrum against Newton North last season, she emerged with a concussion, sidelining her for nearly three weeks. In her absence, Talia Thompson, one year her junior, took over.
“Since Juju and I have been training together for a while, she was able to prepare me to go in, so I felt ready,” Thompson said.
Anastopoulos took over as a sophomore following the graduation of two-time Globe Division 1 Player of the Year Katherine McElroy, who now plays at Michigan.
“Her sophomore year she jumped right in,” Sprague said. “She had full confidence. She’s just such a confident and competitive kid. You wouldn’t have thought that she was a sophomore. … Referees and opposition coaches, they were all asking who she was, and they were all surprised that she was a sophomore.”
That season, Anastopoulos led the Warriors to overtime of the Division 1 semifinals, and backing her up the whole way was Thompson, a pair which Sprague described as two of the top five keepers in the state.
The pair’s dynamic has grown in their three years together at Brookline into one of competition, though according to Sprague, it’s not competition in the traditional sense.
“I think they look across at each other and one sees one playing well, and the other one wants to do it too, so they bring out the best in each other,” Sprague said.
“They’re so supportive of each other that I don’t know that they would categorize what they’re doing as competing for playing time, but I think they compete to be good goalkeepers.”
Third on the Warriors’ expansive depth chart is junior Phoebe Shay, who, in her first year on varsity, is reunited with an old teammate. Shay and Thompson took the field together from sixth through eighth grade, as Thompson would play the first half in goal and Shay would play the second.
“It’s always so much fun to have the person to share that with, and we grow on and off the field together,” Thompson said.
“We push each other to our limits, and it’s a lot of fun to have her with me,” Anastopoulos said.
With such a depth of talent on the roster, Sprague has a delicate balance to strike. In seven of the Warriors’ eight games last season, one goal or fewer marked the decider, including a handful of scoreless draws. Such a phenomenon has become a hallmark of Sprague’s Brookline team, and it begins with strong goaltending.
“Good defense is not something we gloss over, but it’s almost part of our DNA, and having strong goalkeepers has helped us with that,” Sprague said.
Still, it’s hard to continue to develop as a player without seeing field time. Anastopoulos, now in her third year of starting for the Warriors and with a 2021 club national championship under her belt, has playing time in spades.
“Some people just always win,” Sprague said. “And I think Juliana is like that.”
▪ A year ago, as a junior and a freshman, sisters Kate and Caroline Kennard suited up on the varsity at Nauset Regional for an 8-1-3 squad that advanced to the Cape & Islands Atlantic Division title game. Kate started in defense, and Caroline up front. But when an injury to Nauset captain Faye Lindberg in the back left a spot open next to her sister, Caroline jumped at the chance.
“Having [Caroline] back there really gives us a lot of confidence,” Nauset coach Tom Pollert said. “I don’t know if they were shocked that they got to do it together or not, but they seem to be pretty good back there together.”
Caroline’s experience in a more defensive role playing club for South Shore Select has helped her adjust to a new role this fall. Kate, on the other hand, played every minute of all of Nauset’s 2020 campaign at center back, but she is typically a defensive midfielder for her club, Cape Cod ReUnited.
“If anything, it would probably be her giving me pointers,” Kate said, laughing.
When they were in middle school — Kate in seventh grade and Caroline in fifth — the pair overlapped for just a handful of games after Caroline was elevated to the “A-team.” Now, with Kate in her senior year, it’s likely the sisters’ last chance on the field together. The Warriors improved to a 3-0 with a 4-2 win over Sandwich Tuesday afternoon.
But as is the case with any sibling duo, the Kennard sisters aren’t immune to a little sibling rivalry.
“Sometimes we might get a little mad at each other, but we can communicate well, and I think we both work hard for each other when we’re out there,” Kate said.
▪ Hannah Curtin, a two-time Globe All-Scholastic who scored 82 career goals for Winchester, scored the third goal of her freshman season at Dartmouth, striking in the 107th minute to give the Big Green a 2-1 win over Sacred Heart.
Games to watch
Thursday, No. 12 Bishop Fenwick at No. 3 Danvers, 6:30 —A non-league matchup pits two ranked teams in the second game of the season Fenwick (1-0).
Friday, No. 1 Bishop Feehan at No. 2 King Philip — What a Friday afternoon Two of the top three seeds in the Globe’s Top 20 face-off Friday afternoon in a highly anticipated non-league matchup.
Monday, No. 4 Hingham at No. 6 Whitman-Hanson — Two of the strongest sides in the Patriot League battle. in a matchup of Keenan Division rivals.
Monday, No. 14 Masconomet at No. 6 North Andover — In the Knights home opener, North Andover (1-0) will welcome Masconomet (1-1) to town in a non-league matchup of Top 20 schools.