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  • Matt Ondesko

Up for the challenge

By Matthew Ondesko, Managing Editor Photos: St. John Fisher Athletics

It is said that pictures say a 100 words. There is the jubilation of the goal scorer as she scores the game-winning goal to win the World Cup. Then there is the other side of the photo. It’s the one where you see the defender on the ground face down on the grass.

It was that one play that changed the course of the game. As a forward, if you miss an opportunity more than likely you will get a second chance at immortality. If you are a defender, that one mistake could haunt you for the rest of your career.

Being a defender is not an easy position. Those in the stands, or watching on television, may beg to differ. They see a person not running as much just waiting for the other team to come down.

If you look into it more, being a defender is not an easy task. There are plays within a play that a defender has to be good at. Their positioning has to be spot on. They need to communicate with their other players on the pitch. One wrong move, or bad communication, can lead to a goal for the other team.

Mia Tirabassi of St. John Fisher College knows what it takes to be a standout defender. She was a Honorable Mention All-Conference during her junior season, and was a stellar player while applying her trade at Nichols School.

Still being a defender is not easy. it maybe the most physical and mental position on the pitch. Tirabassi goes up against bigger players all the time, and she needs to be able to standup to the physical pounding that she can take during a 16 game season.

“Sometimes it is very challenging being a defender. Not only physically, but emotionally as well. If you are a forward and you miss a shot, that’s okay you just try to make the next one. That being said, if you are a defender and you make a mistake that leads to a goal, you’ve now let everyone down. It is constantly an uphill battle, but to me it just makes the game that much more exciting. To shut down some of the best forwards in the conference is very exciting to me. Knowing that I am protecting my team and more specifically my goalies gives me much pride,” stated Tirabassi. “That being said, with that pride comes pressure. Pressure to shut the players down, pressure to keep the ball out of the net, pressure to be just a step ahead of my attacker. That pressure is what keeps me going and I really like to feed off of it. Years ago, I would get inside my own head and get frustrated with myself causing me to shut down. Being a defender has taught me that mistakes will be made, and goals will be scored. That’s the game. However, it is how I rise from those mistakes and learn from them that defines me as a player. The same goes for life. I never thought I would find life lessons hidden in sports, but that is why soccer is so important to me. It allows me to continue to grow as a person. Life in most ways is an uphill battle and there are constant pressures to beat the best and to be the best. But just like soccer, if I slow down and use my brain, I can always try to be one step ahead. That being said, I was very fortunate to be awarded All conference honorable mention this past fall. We play in a very high caliber conference with many amazing players, so in order to get recognition as a defender meant the world to me.”

Before she was a top defender for St. John Fisher, Tirabassi was a dominating player for Nichols School in the Monsignor Martin. During her four years on the team, Tirabassi probably didn't get the recognition she deserved throughout Western New York. The soccer community in WNY sometimes likes to look at all the scorers and flashy players.

Tirabassi was flashy, just in her own way. The coaching staff so something in her early and the rest you could say is history. Playing at Nichols helped Tirabassi get ready for the college game. Playing in the MMA is challenging at times, but it was the non-league games that tested her skill level.

“Coming from Nichols I was not expecting college soccer to be as big of a change as it was. That being said, I felt extremely prepared. Coach Larry took a chance on me my freshman year and because of that he truly molded me into the defender that I am today. Going into high school I had no intention of playing defense, nor did I know I would get so serious with soccer. Growing up I was always bouncing from one sport to the next, whether it was gymnastics softball, hockey, track, soccer, you name it I did it,” stated Tirabassi. “I did not want to settle down and focus on just soccer until my freshman year when I made varsity. Coach Larry saw my potential and made sure I gave 110 percent every practice and game. Having him help me to create that mind set and work ethic at a younger age just made my transition from high school soccer to college soccer that much smoother. Being named a captain at Nichols allowed me to become a leader and taught me the importance of communication and strong team chemistry. Being awarded MVP of varsity soccer both junior and senior year made gave me a lot of confidence in myself that I never really had, which continued on with me into college. I also felt as though the academic transition from Nichols to college was smooth for me. It taught me great work ethic and how-to time manage everything going on in life. I have made Dean’s list for the past four semesters, and this past fall I also made the Empire 8 President’s list.”

It’s not all about soccer for the Niagara Falls native. Tirabassi is also a tremendous student. She is the true definition of student-athlete. Soccer is a high priority but so is her schooling. When choosing a college, Tirabassi had academics first in her mind. In her mind she knew she was good enough to play soccer at any college, but Tirabassi wanted to make sure that the school was the right fit for her academic wise.

When she visited St. John Fisher, the college had everything she wanted in a school. It had the academic program she wanted. It had the soccer program that she wanted. It was a match made in heaven.

“My time at Fisher has been nothing short of amazing. What first drew me to Fisher right away was the campus. The college itself is stunning, for example the brick buildings as well as the athletic facilities. It is also located in a beautiful neighborhood known as Pittsford, that is very family and friend oriented. The second thing that really drew me to Fisher was the nursing program. The Wegmans School of Nursing is one of the top-rated nursing schools in the country,” stated Tirabassi. “Growing up I always knew I wanted to become a nurse to follow in my mother’s footsteps, so once I toured the nursing school I knew I wanted to make sure this was my home. From that moment on I knew I would have to work extra hard to be accepted into the Wegmans School of Nursing, so that is what I did. I was accepted into and started in the nursing program this past spring semester. Both the professors and students are kind and caring and there is always somebody to help you when you need it. I feel at home at Fisher, not only with the friends that I have made but also knowing that I will come out successful.”

Being a successful person is something that Tirabassi always knew she would be. You could say it was her parents that instilled that type of confidence in the young lady. Tirabassi credits her parents for a lot of the success she has seen on the pitch and in the classroom.

Her parents are the ones that would get up at all hours of the day to drive Tirabassi to and from her practices and tournaments. They instilled a work ethic in her and that can not be matched by many people.

“This one is a shootout to my amazing parents, who spent numerous hours with me in the car driving me to practices, tournaments, and showcases. They never once complained about it or made me feel like I was a bother. They always put me before themselves and I always keep them in the back of my mind when I don’t feel like practicing or I want to give up. I think about how much they sacrifice for me and they are what push me to be better than yesterday. I also owe it to my brother for always teaching me to be tough and to always give 110 percent. Even when we were little kids he would push me to be the best version of myself I could be both as a person and as an athlete. He is my biggest motivator and seeing how hard he has worked and all of his success just makes me want to be that much better to make him proud,” stated Tirabassi. “Besides my family, I would say being coached by Larry Desautels and Tom Dinunzio (travel coach) helped me most. They did not let me slack off and if I made a mistake they would tell me what I did wrong and how I could improve on it. I also did multiple college showcases as far as North Carolina and New York City. I also spent one of my winters all through summer playing on the 2015 Olympic Development Program (ODP) team where I got to play with the highest caliber of girls in the state. That experience is what truly shaped me into the player that I am today, as I was watching and learning from the best of the best in my age group.”

Now it is all coming to an end. After four years of playing at St. John Fisher Tirabassi will be getting ready to call it quits. It’s always a tough time for an athlete when they know their career is coming to an end.

Sure, Tirabassi may play in pickup leagues but it won’t be the same. This will be the last season of playing on a team - and for her school. Since she first put on those cleats as a little girl Tirabassi was going to be a soccer player - she just didn’t know it until high school.

Now she has two months left to realize her dreams of playing for the Cardinals. It will be a bittersweet ending, and one that Tirabassi hasn’t tried to put much thought into.

“This is a tough question to even think about just because I have been playing soccer from such a young age. I have always loved sports and I never wanted to think about imagining my life without it. College always seemed so far away let alone senior year, and I truly can’t believe I am here now. It is going to be extremely emotional not only for me, but also for my parents. They have given me so much over the years and have watched me grow not only into the player that I am, but most importantly the person that I am. I truly would not be who I am today without soccer and I will be forever grateful to the sport. Hanging up my cleats will not be easy, but I will always have the memories and the ability to say that I once played college soccer and I know that I have made people proud,” explained Tirabassi. “I think the toughest part about it will be seeing my parents and my brother on senior day. Knowing that I will be stepping onto my home field one last time will be heartbreaking, but also very bittersweet. I know there is a bigger picture and we all eventually have to move on. I am blessed to have been given the opportunity to play and make it this far. When my soccer door closes, I will just have to keep reminding myself that so many other doors in life will open and that I am only just beginning. For example, nursing. I cannot wait to become a nurse and help as many people as I can. Seeing how many lives my mom has touched over the years just makes me even more excited for my future as a nurse. I hope to go on to grad school to become a Nurse Practitioner. I am unsure of what type of nurse I will be just yet, but I am excited to have a few more clinical rotations to help me narrow it down.”

For now she is just concentrating on the now. As an athlete Tirabassi is tame when it comes to her superstitions. She isn’t like former Boston Red Sox third baseball Wade Boggs who ate chicken before every single game - that’s a 162 pieces of chicken.

But, Tirabassi still has her little quirks. She wouldn’t be an athlete if she didn’t.

“As far as superstitions and routines go, I honestly do not have very many (pretty boring I know). However, I do always have to be wearing my hair in a bun during every game and I also will pick an album recently released, typically rap (if I want to get hyped up) or a really good country album (if I am in the mood to be calmed down) and play it before each game,” said Tirabassi. “I will say that if I have a bad game, I will change my routine accordingly lol. I am a superstitious person with things such as change, so I try to stay consistent and not stray from my usual routines. I also love to blast music with my team right before our coaches come in for pre-game talk to get us pumped up.”


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