DeBiase leads Hawks with determined attitude

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Woodland senior Keri Debiase leads the Hawks on the pitch with a determined toughness. The Hawks clinched their first-ever NVL Brass Division title Monday with a 3-0 victory over Wolcott.-FILE PHOTO

BEACON FALLS — Two and a half weeks ago, the Woodland girls led Naugatuck 3-0 and were well on their way to yet another Naugatuck Valley League shutout.

Late in the game, star midfielder Keri DeBiase went down after a collision. As she struggled back to her feet, she caught a glimpse of Woodland trainer Ray Donaghy walking out to midfield to lend a hand.

“Get away!” she barked as she huffed off to the bench.

And so was another game in the career of Kieran DeBiase.

She’s as Irish as a high school senior from Prospect can get. She’s got the name, the temper, the if-you’re-gonna-push-me-I’m-gonna-push-back-harder attitude. And she knows it.

“I’m just really competitive and I don’t like to lose,” DeBiase says. “I just want to be the best. I got a yellow card this year for [a temper]. I have to learn how to relax a little bit.”

DeBiase isn’t the only one who’s had to learn how to manage her feistiness.

“In that moment you really can’t say much,” Woodland coach Joe Fortier says. “If you say much it gets worse. She’s one you have to pull aside later. She’ll realize it and apologize later. She’s the first to admit when she’s wrong; she just won’t do it right away. She just wants to win so much.”

Her determination has translated to the Hawks’ win-loss ledger this season. Woodland is a perfect 14-0 in NVL play and 15-1 overall. The team has topped the school’s single-season wins record (14) and clinched its first-ever NVL Brass Division title Monday with a 3-0 victory over Wolcott.

Even more impressive than the number of wins is the style in which Woodland has earned them. The Hawks have given up two goals in league play, a penalty kick against Sacred Heart more than a month ago then the second Thursday night in a 2-1 win over Watertown. Wednesday’s 4-0 win over Torrington stretched the Hawks’ NVL shutout streak to 11 games before giving up a goal to Watertown and they’ve outscored league opponents 69-2.

Fortier says “probably 80 percent” of the team’s goals go through DeBiase in one way or another, whether it’s a goal, assist or set-up pass. It’s that kind of involvement that leads him to give her the highest of praise.

“In my opinion she’s the best player Woodland’s ever had,” Fortier says. “It’s hard to say it because Woodland’s had so many. Gina DellaRose was a prolific goal-scorer, fast and unbelievable. Cece Dias was the most educated soccer player I’ve ever been around. Cait Witham was a decent goalie. But what I think separates Keri is how she makes everyone around her better.”

DeBiase holds the school’s all-time assists record and is close to the goal-scoring record, although Fortier says “by nature she’s a defensive player.” After leading the Hawks in scoring last year, when they lost to Naugatuck on penalty kicks in the NVL semifinals, she’s had to take an even bigger role this year after Steph Dumond went down to a broken forearm.

“It was tough losing Steph because she’s a top scorer for us,” DeBiase says. “But we have so many good players on the team who came through even after Steph got hurt.”

DeBiase has helped strikers Audra Blewitt and Jess Rodrigues step up to more than make up for the lost production. She’s also worked in developing freshman midfielder Alexa Casimiro.

“The thing that stands out to me is her leadership,” Fortier says. “She talks to people and pairs up with the freshmen. She has a tremendous soccer IQ. She can slip in passes to players in spaces other people just can’t see.”

DeBiase says she likes getting a defensive stop or making a pass just as much as scoring.

“I’ve learned from the defense over the last few years that it’s not always about scoring,” she says. “It’s about making everyone around you better. It doesn’t matter who gets the shot and who gets the assist. It’s all about winning.”

There have always been challenges for DeBiase, soon to be a four-time All-NVL pick and a two-time All-State honoree. For one, she’s 5-foot-nothing.

“Most likely on the 50-50 balls in the air, I’m not going to win the header. It kind of sucks,” DeBiase jokes. “I try to wait for them to make a mistake. I know it’s hard to win the 50-50 balls perfectly every time so I try to wait a lot.”

For what she lacks in size, though, she makes up with the physicality she was forced to learn from older brothers Tim and Jack.

“It was rough,” DeBiase says of growing up with a pair of football players. “When I was younger I got pushed around a lot. Now on the field I’m tough, I guess.”

Tough physically and tough to stop. And as she closes in on the end of her Woodland career, which will lead her to Southern Connecticut State University’s team next year, she wants to do the one thing the Hawks have never done — win the league tournament.

“It feels really good to be [the favorite] right now,” DeBiase says. “Coming from the tough season we had my freshman year to doing that would be pretty amazing. It would probably be one of the greatest feelings ever.”

Woodland is the top seed in the league tournament and opens up against St. Paul on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Wolcott High School.