Strikers and goal scorers receive lots of headlines and accolades in the sport of soccer.
Locking down the defensive end, however, has been equally important for the Essex High School girls soccer team being undefeated with less than two weeks remaining in the regular season.
Thanks to an experienced, talented back line, the Hornets have surrendered only four goals in storming out to a 10-0-1 record and establishing themselves as the top-ranked Division I team in the state.
Seniors Alexandra Macfarlane, Linnea Willey and Jessica Girardin and junior Alexandra Astor are the starting back four in front of junior goalkeeper Esther Fiore-Young. The group has helped the Hornets accumulate eight shutouts this fall.
“These are good kids and they are good players,” Essex coach Bill O’Neil said. “They are smart and they are hard working. They are good role models for the other kids, and everyone follows their lead even though it’s coming from the back.”
Essex’s defensive group remained mostly intact from last year’s team that finished with a 10-5-1 record and lost to South Burlington in the quarterfinals. Willey said the players’ motivation and chemistry has been excellent since the opening game.
“We talk to each other all the time; we know each other’s playing style so well,” Willey said. “And we are all friends, so we have that mental, emotional bond.”
MacFarlane elaborated on her teammate’s sentiment: “My mentality when I’m back is if somebody gets beat I’m going to be there to help out, and I know I can count on my other backs to do the same thing for me.”
O’Neil believes he has the best collection of backs in the state. It’s tough to argue after watching them keep defending-champion Champlain Valley off the board in a scoreless draw last Friday.
CVU didn’t have many scoring chances despite dominating possession.
“Their back four play very well,” CVU coach Brad Parker said after the game. “They are in sync, they talk to one another, and we had a tough time getting behind them.”
“They really stepped up that game,” Essex senior midfielder Alexa Pius said. “We were under a lot of pressure, especially the first half and (the backs) held it down and kept the score 0-0. Everyone has played a part in our success, but we’ve really relied on our backs. They’ve been so solid.”