Seniors Brooklyn Buckminster and Meghan Kennedy understand their roles on the Siloam Springs girls soccer team don't always receive the attention they deserve.
But make no mistake about it. Without the work that Buckminster and Kennedy have put in on the defensive side of the ball the last four years, the Lady Panthers would not be in the position they are today -- preparing to play for a fifth straight Class 6A state championship.
"I've definitely gotten used to it over the years," said Kennedy, a team captain and starter at center back. "Knowing that if I can make that save, it can make the difference between us winning and losing, so it's kind of personal motivation."
Buckminster, a holding center midfielder, feels the same way.
"I feel like being in the midfield, you probably don't get as much recognition as a forward and stuff," Buckminster said. "But being able to start plays and move the ball, all of that and knowing that you're helping the team is enough for me."
Buckminster and Kennedy have been mainstays for the Lady Panthers defensively the last three state championship seasons, and both of them also played roles as freshman in 2015 when the Lady Panthers won their second straight state title.
Siloam Springs (21-3-2) will get a crack at the program's fifth straight state title at 2 p.m. Friday when it plays Benton (16-4) at Razorback Field on the campus of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
And defense will be a high priority as Siloam Springs hopes to slow down a Benton team that will be making its first state title appearance.
Overall this season, Siloam Springs has allowed only 22 goals and boasts 13 shutouts.
Buckminster and Kennedy's contributions haven't gone unnoticed by their teammates, especially senior goalkeeper and captain Sydney Bomstad.
"Buck and Kennedy mean a lot to our program," Bomstad said. "Without them on the field, I can firmly say we would probably not be headed to the state final. Kennedy holds our defense together and Brooklyn controls the midfield by winning 50/50 balls and her movement off the ball. Not only are they great players and personally give me more confidence going into each game, but they are also great people off the field as they both have a heart of gold and are leaders to others."
Both are also going to continue their soccer careers after their career at Siloam Springs is complete.
Buckminster, along with teammate Audrey Maxwell, signed with Rogers State in Claremore, Okla., back in February.
As a freshman, Buckminster actually started for Siloam Springs as a center back, which has been her primary position as a club player for the Arkansas Comets.
"I ended up getting moved up to midfield, which was a change," Buckminster said, "but I feel whatever would help the team the best is where I should go."
Buckminster scored one goal as a freshman in 2015 and upped that to seven goals and four assists as a sophomore in 2016, where she was all-conference and the team's top midfielder. Last season as a junior, playing an attacking role at times, Buckminster scored 11 goals and had nine assists and earned all-state honors in Class 6A along with another top midfielder award.
In 2018, "Buck" -- as she's affectionately known as by teammates, friends and yes some family members -- has scored six goals to go with four assists for the Lady Panthers, while fighting a nagging ankle injury that slowed her down midway through the year.
"I love Brooklyn," Kennedy said. "We've been playing together forever. I have pictures of us from when we were little and tiny. It's so fun being back there together and we just know how each other plays. I just know that if I mess up she'll cover me and if she messes up I'm there to cover her. It's just a really beneficial partnership. It's just great."
Kennedy, meanwhile, signed to play soccer at John Brown in February, opting to stay close to home with the highly successful Golden Eagles program.
Kennedy didn't see a lot of playing time as a freshman in 2015 as the Lady Panthers had a stacked deck of defenders on the roster.
But she did come along as a sophomore in 2016 and contributed a goal and an assist. She dislocated her left elbow midway through the season but found a way to return to the field and help Siloam Springs win its third straight state title. She also earned all-conference honors and was named the team's defensive player of the year.
Kennedy emerged as the Lady Panthers' true leader in the back as a junior in 2017 and she also added five goals and two assists as she was named all-conference in the 6A-West and the team's defensive player of the year again.
"Defense doesn't always get recognized, but for me to get recognized as defensive player of the year was really special," Kennedy said. "It was nice to know that my team appreciated the effort I had given."
This season, Kennedy has battled a stress fracture in her tibia, but it's something she is fighting through to stay on the field.
"It's been healing but it takes a long time to heal," she said. "You can play on it and you won't injure it anymore. I've just been playing on it and just going as hard as I can, but I feel good."
Kennedy is also well-respected by her teammates, who voted her a team captain along with Bomstad and Megan Hutto.
"I love Kennedy," Buckminster said. "Just knowing she's back there makes me feel so much better. She's always the one talking and telling the team what to do because we can't always see everything that's going on. And Kennedy's a great person on and off the field. She's always being there for everyone in any way that she can be. She's definitely the definition of a captain."
Kennedy is also the team's spiritual leader and leads the Lady Panthers in prayer before every game.
"I feel like it's important to recognize the Lord and the hand that He plays in everything that we do," Kennedy said. "I love being there to pray for the team. I try to not make it cliche and pray what's on my heart."
Both Kennedy and Buckminster are looking forward to one last time playing together as Lady Panthers this Friday in the state championship game.
"I think obviously we can't go into it too confident, but we definitely need to trust in each other and know that all season we've been working for this," Kennedy said. "We know what to do, and so if we can just execute it then we'll be good."
"I think that we don't need to worry so much about the outcome during the game and put so much pressure on that," Buckminster said. "We just need to worry about playing the way we know how to play, because if we do that then everything will take care of itself."
Sports on 05/16/2018
Print Headline: Unsung heroes