TEWKSBURY – When Julia Cafferty was on the Under 12 travel soccer team, the team didn't have a goalie, so her coach, also a family friend, Richard Frost, inserted her as the team's goalie. She obliged.
Ever since that day, Cafferty has never left the net. In the early goings of trying to learn her new position, she went to her favorite goalie for help: her twin brother Liam.
"Liam taught me how to punt and I guess I went with it. Our front yard is pretty long so we would just punt the ball to see how far it went down the street," said Julia before Liam chirped in to say, "and I would always win."
Fast forward five years later, and the sister and brother tandem are the returning starting goalies for the Tewksbury Memorial High School girls' and boys' soccer teams. And how each of them got there to begin with — and have since become pretty darn good at it — is as neat of a story as their incredible bond of being twin siblings, with Julia 25 minutes older.
"You definitely have a bond with your twin that isn't like any other. (Liam) won't say it because he's too cool, but he knows (that's true). The only (bad thing about being a twin) is you have to share your birthday cake every year," said Julia with a laugh.
GETTING THE CALL
Back in the fall of 2016, Liam was a freshman and was splitting goalie duties on the JV team. A year later, he was again on the JV team, but that changed about halfway through the season.
"(The varsity team) lost a game to Chelmsford 11-0 and not all eleven goals that went in were the goalie's fault, but something had to change," said boys' varsity coach Chris Burns. "We brought Liam up from the JV team and I played him in the next game. He has played ever since, except for two games last year when he was hurt."
In his first year as the team's full-time goalie, Liam was part of the team's incredible turnaround, going from a 2-15-1 record in 2017 to a 9-6-4 record, which included a 3-2 overtime loss to Winchester in the first round of the Division 2 North Sectional Tournament.
Liam missed two games during the middle of the season with an injury, but he was instrumental in helping the Redmen start out of the gate with a 4-0-1 record which included shut out victories over Andover, Haverhill and Austin Prep as well as a 2-2 tie with Lowell. The Haverhill win stood out the most because he made a 10-bell diving punch out save at a critical moment of the contest.
While that save and that win over Haverhill was a highlight, Liam said the team's season opening victory over Andover stood out to him.
"The years prior, Andover was always really good and they would tend to beat us, but a 3-0 win (for us) over Andover in the first game of the season was a real confidence booster for all of us," said Liam.
After the strong start, Tewksbury had some ups and downs, but were able to play well against some tough teams including losses to Dracut and North Andover, while ending in a 2-2 tie with Pentucket Regional, a strong tournament team in Division 3 North.
Tewksbury qualified for the state tournament and matched up against Winchester. The Sachems scored two early goals before Tewksbury rallied back in the second half to score two of its own, sending the game to OT. That's when Winchester came out with a 3-2 victory.
"Going into halftime, everyone's heads were down and we just thought it was over, but coach (Burns) told us that we were not out of it and we could come back," said Liam. "He said that we were evenly matched with them, but we needed to keep our heads up and stay positive and we could do it. We tied it up and it went to overtime (but we lost).
"In OT, they had the ball inside the '18 (yard box) and one of our defenders got pulled down and they didn't call it and it left that side of the goal wide open. I dove as far as I could, but it wasn't far enough."
YET IT RINGS AGAIN
As a sophomore, Julia was the back-up goalie to Leanne Dunham. Julia played in one game as Dunham had a terrific season. Then right before last year's season started, Dunham decided to transfer out of TMHS and quickly Julia found out that she was the starting goalie.
"They sprung it on me that Leanne was leaving and it was like 'OK?' But all of the girls on the team last year were very, very welcoming and they all instilled a little bit of confidence in me," said Julia. "I think I'm a little bit more comfortable than I was last year. It really helped me that the defensive players and I really bonded. It really helped that they all had such confidence in me."
Tewksbury did indeed have a strong defense in front of Julia, which certainly helped her confidence grow, especially early on when the team started out 3-0 with convincing wins over Lawrence and Lowell. After that the team went on a tough streak, losing three in a row to three very strong teams, North Andover (1-0), Central Catholic (1-0) and Wilmington (2-1).
After that short losing streak, the team desperately needed a victory and Julia helped to do her part as she made 19 saves in a brilliant performance over Billerica, a 2-1 victory. That started a strong second half push as the Redmen closed out the season with strong wins over North Andover (14 saves), Central Catholic and Newburyport, three outstanding programs.
Tewksbury closed out the regular season with a 9-7-2 record, which was extremely impressive since the program was bumped up to MVC Division 1. The Redmen then played in the Division 2 North sectional tournament and went up against the reigning Division 2 state champions of Danvers. Julia played absolutely brilliant all night, despite the team falling 3-1.
If you ask Julia, she said the hardest adjustment she had to make during her rookie campaign wasn't learning about angles or when to come off her line or when to stay. It was much simpler than that.
"Communication," she answered. "That's was the toughest thing for me. For the longest time I really didn't voice my opinions, even when I was on the Under 12 and Under 14 (youth travel) teams. I did talk with my defense a little bit, but now I'm talking to our forwards and the midfielders, and telling everyone what mark to have. It's definitely a very important part of the game because miscommunication in games usually ends up in losses. That was the hardest thing for me because for the longest time I was just very quiet. Then I got put into this position and I needed to be so loud. I knew that I had to step up to the plate and I think I have gotten there."
TRICKS OF THE TRADE
If you are a goalie, whether soccer or hockey, you never get enough credit and you are always blamed when the other team scores. You have to make split second decisions, you react in split seconds and you hope your athleticism, skills and a little luck are in your corner.
As siblings, whenever they get a chance, Julia and Liam will watch the other one play, and then offer some advice.
"He'll say 'you should have stepped then, or you should have waited a second' and those are the things that I can't see, but of course I think about those things and think what could I have done. But it's nice getting that from like a third person's perspective," said Julia.
How does Liam rate his twin sister's overall performance in the net?
"She is definitely an aggressive player and she'll go after the ball. She doesn't care who is in front of her," said Liam with a laugh. "She's not afraid to dive for it either. I see a lot of goalies and they are afraid to get off their feet and dive for the ball and she'll go after it. She is very vocal and a great communicator with the team, telling people where they need to be."
And Liam's game?
"It's hard to critique his game," said Julia. "He knows what it takes to get the job done and he does it. I sometimes sit there and it's just very impressive to watch him play. You'll see the ball go and he'll come out of nowhere and it's like 'oh just kidding, you thought you could score'. It's awesome. It's awesome watching him play."
The one aspect that both of them share is their aggressiveness to come off of their line. That's always tough for goalies — first learning how and when to do it, and then realizing there's a time to be aggressive and a time to be patient.
"It's kind of in the situation kind of thing. I have learned that even a split second of patience makes total difference so patience is a very important thing as a goalie. Coming off the line is very hard but for the most part, I think (both my brother and I) barely stay on the line — (Liam) is like at midfield," joked Julia. "For the most part, it's about trusting yourself. You have to make a decision as soon as you see something happening and just trust yourself to do it. Whether (the ball) goes in or not, it's up to fate I guess, as long as trust yourself, you can't go wrong."
A goalie can have everything — skill, aggressiveness, great communication skills, but if you lack confidence, even for a second, you could be on the short end of the stick very quickly.
"I was a lot more confident that the first year I started (playing at the varsity level as a sophomore)," said Liam, who is also an excellent thrower in the shot put, discus and javelin for both of the indoor and outdoor track teams. "It's all about confidence and I always have to have it. I can't doubt myself because no matter what, the ball first got by those other ten people first before it gets to you. If the other team scores, there's nothing else you can do after that."
ONE LAST HURRAH
For Julia and Liam, they are coming off strong seasons and would like nothing better than to raise their games to a higher level, all the while help their team get as far as possible. Julia knows all about that. It was just this past March when she and her teammates took the floor at the Tsongas Arena as the Redmen Girls Basketball team made program history by playing in its first ever sectional championship game. Unfortunately the Pentucket Sachems came out with the win. Julia improved leaps and bounds over the course of the hoop season and will be looked upon for a much bigger role come this winter.
"It was kind of surreal. You go from playing in little high school (gymnasiums) to a stadium and it's like 'wow'. I don't think we expected to do that well," she said. "We were in it for the most part against Pentucket. It wasn't our strongest game but if we stepped it up a little bit more, the sky was the limit."
Since that loss, Julia was a member of the girls' outdoor track team and now after the summer break, she's gearing up for her final season of soccer as a captain.
"Julia has been our starting goalie for the past two seasons. She is the leader on and off the field," said girls' head coach Samantha Tavantzis. "Julia is our strongest communicator on the team. She sees the field well and is strong in the air. She is coachable and hard working. Her quick reflexes and strength of communicating with her teammates will bring us great success this season. I’m very excited to have her as our senior captain this year."
Despite losing a lot of talent off last year's team, including many veteran defenders and Haley Mignon, an all-state selection, Julia believes that there's enough talent on this year's team to compete with the best teams in the MVC once again.
"I think we're looking really good. It's early still, but we're communicating very well. I think it's going to be an interesting season for sure. We are a young team, but the people who are on the team, I think are pretty mature and we work really well together.
"Last year we had a very strong defensive team," she continued. "Our defense was quite a brick wall. Moving from last year to this year, I think we just need to have the positive thinking, seeing what we can do. Last year we did do well so it just takes time to see the little things."
While the girls' team will be replacing most of its defense, the boys' team lost All-Conference defender Lucas Frost to graduation, but return veterans Greg Sencabaugh and Brady Eagen, who will play in front of Liam.
"Our defense is very good and Greg is just incredible," said Liam. "I'm very confident with those guys in front of me. We just tend to play the ball up the middle and it gets eaten up by (the other team's) defenders, so we're working on getting it wide, getting it to those wide spots and getting it across. Connecting those passes is what we really need to work on."
Heading into this season, Burns is excited about the possibilities of what lies ahead for the Redmen, especially since in his opinion, he has the "best goalie in the league."
"Liam has improved a lot," said Burns. "I think he has a desire to be good. He's a good leader. Liam with Greg and a few others, they have seen (this program) when things were really bad and they have also seen when things have been really good.
"I think there's a little bit of redemption for Liam for this season. Last year he had a couple of miscues that cost us some goals in the state tournament loss and I think he's looking forward to having a big season. He is driven, he is very vocal, he is good with his feet and he's a good shot stopper. Technically wise, he's a very good keeper. He's always in the right position, and he makes some great saves that you don't expect him to make. He keeps us in games. When a game is tied, he keeps the game tied or if we get ahead, he keeps it that way. He's a huge asset for us.
"We head into most games and I know that and the team knows that our goalie is better than the opposing team's goalie, and when you know that beforehand, it's just a huge boost. He's going to be tough to replace (after he graduates). We're hoping he's going to have a great senior season. In my opinion, he's the best goalie in the league. The Dracut goalie is pretty good, too, but in my opinion, Liam is the best goalie in the entire conference."
Burns added that Liam is also a remarkable young man, who he says comes from an incredible family.
"He's a class kid, his parents are great and obviously it's a great story with his sister also playing in the net," said Burns. "Their mom and dad are very supportive, so you can just tell that the quality that Liam has as a person. Forget about soccer, it all comes from his family and it's just so great to have that part of our program."
After Liam finishes playing for Burns and graduates from TMHS in June, he said that he would like to continue to play soccer. His top two choices right now are Merrimack and Endicott. He knows Merrimack may be a reach since it's a Division 1 school, but he certainly is more than capable of playing at Endicott or a school similar.
Julia said that her varsity playing days will be over once she graduates, but would like to play intramural sports wherever she elects to attend college. She is looking at the University of Rhode Island, Rivier, St. Anselm and Plymouth State where she would like to major in Nursing, while also taking on a minor in psychology.
They were asked what it will be like — a year from now — without their twin in each other’s 'net'?
"It'll be different, but we'll be fine," they said together in agreement.