WESTFIELD, NJ — Less than one month into the fall, Westfield High School field hockey defender Julia Gagliardi has helped to be the “brick wall” that staves off the competing team.

Gagliardi, a 17-year-old senior, is this week’s Ron Bansky and Associates Allstate Westfield Athlete of the Week. The season’s highlight so far, she said, was a recent 1-0 win against Kent Place School.

“Our team works hard as a unit, and it’s a great feeling knowing someone always has your back and is always there to pick you up,” Gagliardi said. “We don’t play for ourselves. We play for each other. Our coaches are also always pushing us to be better and stronger players. They don’t sugarcoat anything.”

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Head girls varsity field hockey coach Caitlin Cheddar noted that playing as a defender marks a change for Gagliardi and is one the youth has embraced.

“Julia has been playing strong defense for us,” Cheddar said. “This is a new position for her this year but this is where we really need her, and she’s doing a great job. Her strong clears, smart penalty corner play and general leadership have all been important to our team’s success. ‘Gags’ always gives her teammates a full effort, and you really can’t ask for more than that.”

Gagliardi has been playing field hockey since her freshman year and until last year served as a forward before making the switch to defender.

“As a defender your main jobs are to clear balls out of your half of the field, set up your midfielders to back good passes to the forwards and contain any opposing players from getting in the circle or from scoring,” she said. “You and your other defenders have to pretty much be a brick wall.”

Switching positions was not an easy one, Gagliardi said, as the game is unpredictable. “The only way to learn is by making mistakes,” she said. And although she has since healed, it was a challenge complicated by pre-season quadricep injury sustained during practice.

“My teammates and coaches gave me so much confidence,” Gagliardi said. “They believed that I could make the switch, which gave me a boost in confidence. My coaches were instrumental in helping me to learn this new position and my teammates always had my back.”

Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh

The Allstate Westfield Athlete of the Week is sponsored by Ron Bansky & Associates Allstate Agency. Located 502 East Broad St., the agency has been protecting local families and business owners for over 19 years. Call them at 908-301-0711 for a new auto, home or life insurance quote this week and if you mention the Allstate WHS Athlete of the Week they will make a $25 contribution to the Westfield Boosters Association! To learn more, visit ronbansky.com.