Durning named Observer Female Athlete of the Year; Becomes sixth Kardinal recipient of year-end award

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Lily Durning had a bit of a head start in playing soccer. The long-time Kearny resident and Kearny High School athlete was all of three years old when she started kicking the soccer ball around.

“I don’t remember much about playing soccer back then,” said Durning, who was all of three when she began. Not many kids have vivid memories of when they were three.

I think I remember when I was six or seven,” Durning said. “I remember scoring nine goals in a game. I was very competitive.”

It helped Lily’s growth having a sister Haley, who was also an athletic stud and is four years older.

“It was perfect for me, because it was exactly four years,” Durning said. “She was so good. I always looked up to her. She had the perfect work ethic. It made me want to be like her. I learned that I had to work for what I wanted. I wanted to play soccer and run track like Haley.”

However, Lily had high goals in mind _ other than scoring goals.

“I wanted to make my own path,” Durning said. “I wanted to be better than everyone, not just Haley.”

Lily started off slowly, battling for playing time up front as a freshman.

“I wasn’t getting sufficient playing time,” Durning said. “But I felt I made my mark.”

As a sophomore, Durning had a four-goal game en route to an 18-goal season.

“Ever since I was a freshman, I wanted to be a big part of the county championship runs,” Durning said.

“She was very determined to do whatever she could to help the team,” said girls’ head soccer coach and now athletic director Vin Almeida. “Her work ethic was skyrocketing. She never stopped running, never stopped fighting for the ball. If you put her in the right spot, she was determined to apply good pressure and get to the ball. She got to the balls that others had given up on.

“And she always had that work ethic,” Almeida said. “Things started to work right for her. We were playing Bayonne one game and it looked like a 0-0 tie. But Lily got to one ball and after the penalty was called, Lily knocked one in, scoring off a free kick.”

Almeida had another compliment of his leading scorer.

“Lily had a couple of opportunities that didn’t pan out for her,” Almeida said. “She was determined to score. She kept working and working. She could knock one in with her left foot as well.”

Durning christened the new facility with a game-winning goal.

Almeida just loved Durning’s intensity.

“Off the field, she was always happy and upbeat,” Almeida said. “She tried to motivate the others. Her hard work has propelled her to where she is today. And we squeezed every last bit of her ability out from her.”

Lily graduated this year with 20 goals and six assists on a talented Kardinals roster.

When it came time to run track, Durning was ready.

“I ran indoors because my sister did,” Durning said. “I almost quit the team.”

But Durning stuck with it and became a force to be reckoned with.

“I had to keep focus on the hurdling,” Durning said. “That was important. I had to focus on the technique while I was running. I didn’t start hurdling for good until my junior and senior years.”

Durning exploded on to the track scene. As a senior, she was sixth in the high jump, third in the NJ outdoors, second in the 400-meter hurdles, second in the 200-meter hurdles and set a new personal best in the process.

“It means a lot to me,” Durning said.

For her efforts, Lily Durning has been selected as The Observer Female Athlete of the Year. She received her award from Observer General Manager Robert Pezzolla last week.

She became the sixth Kearny female to receive the honor, joining Allyson Dyl (2007-2008), Janitza Aquino (2010-2011), Stefanie Gomes (2011-2012), Nicole Kelly (2013-2014) and Amber Crispin (2015-2016).

“I’m very proud of what I’ve done in high school,” Durning said. “I did the best I could do. I did everything I could have. I did everything that was asked of me. I worked as hard as I could.”

In that respect, Durning may be the hardest worker Kearny ever produced.

“I’d go into the gym and wish my name could be there on the wall,” Durning said. “It wasn’t meant to be. I love Kearny and I love all the people I played with.”

Durning’s athletic career will end in Kearny. She has applied to the University of Georgia and has received acceptance there, but will not compete for the Bulldogs.

Funny, that’s a fitting name for a gritty tough athlete who really worked hard and tried her best.

Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer