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Step up — Lakewood’s young defense shines
LAKEWOOD — Coming into the season, defense was coach Jeremiah Wohlgemuth’s primary concern.
“I like to start building from defense and let the goals take care of themselves,” he said. “And we’ve seen that happen the last few games where we’ve got goals that weren’t drawn up.”
Lakewood is having the program’s best season, winning its first state match 2-1 against Klahowya Nov. 10, in its first state appearance.
But instead of sending upperclassmen to the back line as many coaches would do, Wohlgemuth looked to his incoming freshmen to turn a weakness into a strength. And that is exactly what he as done, as the Cougars defense, which consists of freshmen Kennedy Bonnallie and Taylor Studzinski, sophomore Kiley Brown and junior Jessica Pauley, ended the regular season allowing just 10 goals in 16 games, a school record.
“Seeing that sort of defense in this league is remarkable,” Wohlgemuth said. “Especially since we play some of the top goal scorers and teams in the state.”
And those goals weren’t scored in bunches. Only two teams have been able to score more than one goal on this young but already stout defense, and it has already recorded eight shutouts.
“It doesn’t feel good to get scored on,” joked Studzinski. “That’s why we don’t let it happen.”
But all kidding aside, it’s not something that can be drawn up. Wolgemuth calls it an intangible, but more specifically, it’s an unusually high level of composure for such a young group.
“We talk a lot,” said Bonnallie. “We got used to yelling at each other and now it’s just the way we communicate. But it’s all positive.”
A goofy group of girls that were as casual and easygoing during an interview as they were during warmups, they appear to be hard to bother.
Although all four had played defense before, none of them called themselves defenders, each more used to playing midfield.
“We have a lot of trust in each other to make the right decision and back the rest of up,” said Brown.
But now, after allowing just three goals in as many playoff games, with a shortened roster, the girls can say they’ve seen some of the best offenses and stood their ground.
“They are just natural defenders and they all bring different aspects to the table,” Wohlgemuth said. He pointed out newcomer Jessica Pauley, who played center midfield most of the season before needing to step in toward the end.
“She isn’t the fastest one back there, but she is just so smart, and what we were missing was a defender to gather the ball and start our attack. She provided that instead of just clearing it,” he said.
But they admit that they don’t always stick to the game plan. This is an equal opportunity defense, meaning they take every player as they come and don’t give many special treatment.
“We’ll be told who to look out for, but once we’re out there, we see how to play them,” Pauley said.
Whatever the mix of strategy, hustle, improvisation and teamwork, it is creating some exciting soccer.