The defense may rest in a court of law, but the Collinsville Kahoks’ back line never takes a break.
Senior Tori Ford, juniors Caydren Jones, Chayse Richardson and Kitty Besserman, and sophomore Dayle McEwen typically slam the door on opponents’ scoring oppportunities. They along with goalies Julie Scheiter, a junior, and Morgan Lerch, a sophomore, have registered 15 shutouts and allowed just 14 goals.
“The back four do multiple jobs,” said Collinsville coach Clay Smith, who starts Jones in the middle, Besserman in front of Jones and Richardson and McEwen on the wings, with help from Ford off the bench when Smith moves Besserman to a different position. “They take a lot of pressure off our offense and our goalkeepers as well.”
Smart, athletic, physical and tactically sound are just some of the words Smith uses to describe a defense that has helped land the Kahoks in the Class 3A state tournament Friday and Saturday at North Central College in Naperville.
“It all starts with Dayle McEwen in the center of the back, who we play deep,” Smith said. “She does a fantastic job of letting everybody know their duties and she does a great job of letting them know when they’re not doing them well, which I love as a coach because it makes sure we’re organized.
“Then you put Kitty Besserman in front of her, who’s smart and a great player. Tori Ford, as well, who complements that spot with Kitty. Then those outside wings have gotten better and better all year long. Caydren Jones and Chayse Richardson have done a fantastic job of improving and sticking to our style of play.
“So it’s a very talented back four, or back five, when you add Tori. They’re all smart, they understand how to mark, they understand how to help each other.”
Leaning on the ‘D’
The Kahoks aren’t hurting for offense. Three players have at least 14 goals and five others have at least nine assists. While the pressure to score is constant, offensive players like seniors Sophia Sharos and Mikayla McCarthy and sophomore Emily Holten have to breathe easier knowing the defense will hold down the opposition.
“They believe we’ll get the job done, and so do we,” Besserman said. “We’re all pretty fast and we can all handle the ball pretty well. We have each other’s back, and that helps a lot.”
Ford said that is the No. 1 key.
“I would say we all work well together as a team; we all get along well on and off the field,” she said. “But we get on each other and talk about our mistakes and how to fix them. We’re pretty vocal.”
“When we get on each other about something that we don’t do, we don’t take it personally,” McEwen said. “And we’re always complimenting each other on things we do well.”
Jones recalled a time in the preseason when the defense was somewhat unsettled. Fortunately for the Kahoks, it solidified.
“At the beginning of the season, we weren’t getting much credit because everyone thought we were going to be weak,” Jones said. “We had a good offense, but not a very good defense. I like how we all came together and proven people wrong. We’ve all stepped up and worked together. We’ve been solid.”
Perhaps no one on the field runs as much as Richardson, whose powerful flip throw enhances an offense that is one of the Kahoks’ strengths.
Richardson routinely runs 40 yards from her position to make one of her patented flip throws, which usually are delivered with deadly strength and accuracy in the attacking third.
“She’s gotten better at it all year and it has become a lethal weapon for us,” Smith said.
Richardson said: “I started doing it when I was 7 or 8. I’ve never hurt myself. I started by doing handstands and cartwheels on the ball. It started from there.”
Richardson joked that her flip throws are never the same. Sometimes, she send one high into the air and into the box. Others are line drives that bounce before being played.
“You never know what will happen,” she said. “It’s always a surprise.”
Too tough to decide
In recent weeks, Lerch has started in goal, played the first half, then yielded the second half to Scheiter. It’s a system that works, in part, because Lerch and Scheiter enjoy it.
“If they do mind, they haven’t said anything to me yet. It’s working,” said Smith, who used Lerch and Scheiter every other game before switching to the current strategy.
“I like it,” Lerch said. “I can come out (at halftime) and be relieved that I did my part. I can just sit back and watch the rest of the game. I like my partner, Julie, and I like sharing time with her. It’s a good situation to be in to have two goalies at the same level.”
Smith doesn’t think he could choose one over the other as a full-time starter.
“They both do a great job,” he said. “It’s a great problem to have as a coach. You always think it’s going to maybe affect your game, throwing in somebody (in the second half) who’s not in the pace of the play. But it hasn’t bitten us yet and I don’t think it will.
“Tayler Pulverenti, our goalkeepers coach, works them hard. They work hard in the offseason and they’re friends off the field when they train together. Right now, because there is no jealousy and they know they’re a team and they’re getting shutouts and wins, which is what it’s all about, it’s working out.”
Scheiter said she uses the first half to calm herself down and get ready to play.
“I just come out ready to go,” she said.