No goals allowed

Defense sparks MC women's soccer on remarkable run

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By Stefan Cooper
Sports Editor
Blount Today

The Rhodes College women’s soccer team found the Maryville College net for four goals in a match earlier this season. It marked the 10th goal surrendered in four matches for Maryville, dropping the Lady Scots to 1-3 on the year.
Something had to change. Something did. Big.

"We’ve only give up two goals since," said Maryville coach Pepe Fernandez, whose Lady Scots enter this afternoon’s out-of-division clash with Carson-Newman College at Maryville riding an 11-match win streak.
Kickoff is 5:30 p.m.

Not only have the goals against all but ceased during the run, but, led by sophomore Sarah Harmon and freshman Jamie Roberts, the Lady Scots (11-3, 10-0 Great South Athletic Conference) are pumping in goals like no Maryville team to come before them.

Harmon, with 14 goals and nine assists on the seasons, leads four players with 20 or more points on the year. Roberts has found the opposing net for 11 goals and five assists, with junior Rachel McRee knocking home nine goals, fellow junior Rachel Rushworth seven.

Two others, junior Britney Vann and sophomore Sarah Powell, have struck for five goals. After the slow start, Maryville has unleashed a scoring barrage that has seen it outscore its last 11 opponents by a 62-2 margin.

"This is, top to bottom, the best group of girls we’ve ever had," Fernandez said.

A key factor in the season’s early goal deficit was the installation of a new four-back defense, the Maryville coach said.

Graduation following last season took from 2005’s NCAA tournament team a couple of critical components, one being Great South Athletic Conference Player of the Year Beth Bailey in the midfield, the other all-conference defender Rachel Brubaker.

The latter’s loss was hardest felt, Fernandez said. With Brubaker, Maryville could deploy its traditional three-back defense a sweeper and a pair of fullbacks — to protect goalkeeper Lindsay York. Without her, the defense simply wouldn’t work.

"Brubaker was such an athlete, she could make five or six mistakes and still make the play," Fernandez said. "You didn’t realize what you had until you lost her.

"Early, we didn’t have the player to play in the middle in the back. We tried several people in the middle, and no one worked out back there."

Since three defenders was no longer viable, Fernandez and assistant Jon Baker opted to go with four. Defenders Katie Fernandez, Jessica Jensen, Jessica Casler, Andi Morrow and Kelse Morse have, after a few bumps early, made the decision appear a master stroke.

"It (the defense) allows you to win the ball earlier and get it back up the field," Fernandez said.

Once the ball has been won, Roberts, Harmon and the Maryville offense have had little trouble the last 11 games finding the net at the other end.

"What makes it work is our midfield distributes the ball so well," Roberts said. "Basically, all of our goals have been tap-ins."

Evidence of the scoring machine Maryville has become began showing itself three seasons ago with the arrival of Vann, McRee and Rushworth. Arriving along with goal-scoring phenom Laken Barnes, no longer with the team, the-once-dubbed "Four Aces" pumped instant offense into Maryville’s attack.

"My first year, all you had were the forwards," Vann said, "and Laken was insanely fast. This team has a lot more technique."

"Everybody brings something to the table," Harmon said.

Fourteen Lady Scots have tallied at least one assist this season, with Harmon (nine) and Rushworth (seven) best at finding teammates at an opponent’s goal. Sophomore Chelse Nieri and freshmen Lauren Metz and Hannah Smith add immediate playmaking when sent on.

With Powell back at full speed after missing seven matches with a knee injury, Maryville is racing toward next month’s conference tournament at a high rate of speed.

The Lady Scots will wield a 56-match conference unbeaten streak when they entertain Great South foes Huntingdon and LaGrange on Saturday and Sunday. Maryville is 61-3-3 all time in conference play. The Lady Scots have not suffered a Great South loss since the 2001 tournament championship game.

This season’s conference champion secures the league’s first-ever automatic NCAA tournament berth. Should Maryville fall short at the conference tournament, an event it will host, an at-large bid to the Big Dance is likely. It’s just not the approach the Lady Scots are looking to take.

"We’ve talked about getting that automatic bid and making a run in the (national) tournament," Fernandez said. "The girls, if they win out, are maybe looking at a first-round bye. It’s changed our whole perspective. I don’t know if we would have made so many changes if it weren’t for that."

All-region selections
Named to the All-Region 2AAA tournament were: Megan Disney, Sarah Torgeson, Karns; Abbie Harper, Sarah Roberts,
Maryville; Amanda Mitchell, Eden Watts, Kelsey Benorden (most valuable player), Farragut.

© 2006 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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