Danielle Stillarty has been kicking soccer balls for a dozen years.
The Wyoming Area senior has been kicking footballs for a half-dozen months.
This fall, however, Stillarty has made herself just as comfortable in a new role on the football team as she is maintaining her place as a four-year starter on defense for the girls soccer team.
Stillarty is perfect on extra points, making all 13 of her attempts during a Wyoming Area football season in which every point counts. Although she has not yet had to make a game-tying or game-winning kick after being on stand-by twice, Stillarty’s reliability has kept the Warriors from being at a disadvantage while four of their last five games have been decided by eight points or less.
“She’s been very consistent, improving throughout the year, which is really what you are looking for in that point-after situation,” Wyoming Area coach Randy Spencer said.
Stillarty ranks among the top 10 kickers in scoring out of 17 teams in the Wyoming Valley Conference even though she did not take over extra-point duties until after the season had started.
It took Stillarty just a little time to prove herself after first trying kicking at a track practice last spring.
During a lighter moment at a track practice, some athletes had a football out. Track coach Joe Pizano, who is also Wyoming Area’s athletic director and an assistant football coach, encouraged Stillarty to try a kick.
“I gave it a try and I made some,” said Stillarty, who hurdles and runs on some relay teams in track season.
From there, conversations between Stillarty and sophomore quarterback Kyler Higgins led to communication with the coaching staff and encouragement to give the sport a try.
It was not the first time, the Wyoming Area football coaches added a kicker by being open to athletes from other sports.
When girls soccer was still a spring sport, Katie Scalzo kicked for the Warriors, hitting a game-winning field goal in the 2010 Eastern Conference playoffs and earning all-star honors, along with a spot in the UNICO Game.
Scalzo still comes around to work with Stillarty and give her tips.
Wyoming Area’s other kicking specialist, A.J. Lenkaitis, follows the same routine as Stillarty, splitting time between soccer and football.
“Through the school with our coaches and our teachers – coach (Fred) Marianacci who is our special teams and kickers coach – we try to explore all the potential student-athletes in the school, not just those who are currently on the roster with the football team,” Spencer said. “He’s constantly reaching out to student-athletes and seeing if they might have interest.
“They’re both very accomplished student-athletes, not only in soccer, but in track. We were fortunate to have them both come out. Both have worked hard and have become very accomplished on football field as well.”
Lenkaitis, a junior, played both sports as a freshman and again this season. After taking last season off from soccer, he is a striker this year. In football, he handles punts and kickoffs while being available if a longer field goal attempt is needed.
Lenkaitis made a field goal as a freshman. Last year, he kicked 30 extra points and earned first-team WVC small school all-star honors from www.northeastpafootball.com as a punter.
“I feel a part of both teams,” Lenkaitis said of the challenge of playing two sports in the same season. “All the guys have been very welcoming.
“I have 10 other guys out there blocking for me. I have the easy part kicking the ball.”
When Stillarty added football to soccer, Lenkaitis shared with her his observation that kicking in football is more of a mental challenge than a physical one.
Still, being part of the football team meant joining the Warriors for preseason conditioning, running and tackling drills.
Stillarty has settled into her sport, consistently adding the seventh point after the Warriors drive for a touchdown. She says being the only girl playing has not been a problem.
“All the guys treat me like their sister,” she said. “Every time I make an extra point, they all say, ‘that’s my girl’.”