The scoring numbers surrounding Century girls lacrosse are staggering.
Seventeen goals. No, that’s not a big offensive day. It’s how many total goals the Knights’ defense has allowed through four playoff games.
Century’s offense, which has garnered much of the spotlight, has put impressive numbers all season, but it’s been the defense that has put the team in position to become state champions Wednesday when it faces Hereford for the Class 2A title at 4 p.m. at Loyola Maryland’s Ridley Athletic Complex.
“They’ve been doing an extremely good job,” Century coach Becky Groves said. “We really pull together as a team and stress team defense as a way to be able to shut down their key threats and be able to maintain playing defense on everyone else.”
The defense has been playing at a high level all season despite going through an early adjustment process. With departures from last year’s team and other players shifting positions, new faces emerged as defensive starters and it took some time to come together.
The unit didn’t jell right away. Players came from different club teams and had to learn how to best communicate with one another, senior Lauren Wunder said.
“I thought we were a little rough at first,” she admitted, “and then more and more we played together and see how other people played and what people’s specialties are.”
Some time off early in the season and gaps between games allowed the defense time to mesh together. New faces broke into the lineup as they asserted their readiness during practices, and they made the most of it.
“At first it was difficult, but we went game by game because we did have big breaks in the beginning of the season,” senior Katie Bornyek said. “So once the games went on, we started to bond better together and we could read each other better and started communicating better as a whole and we played team defense.”
Through 19 games, the defense is allowing just 5.7 goals a game. Only two teams, Mt. Hebron and C. Milton Wright, have scored double-digit goals against the Knights.
There is a sense the defense gets overlooked in favor of gaudy offense numbers, but the Knights don’t mind as long as they’re getting the job done.
“We don’t usually need the attention,” Bornyek said, “because we just do our job and we’re doing it for our team, and we’re doing it all together.”
Key defensive plays translate directly into strong offense for most top teams. That came to be twice in Saturday’s state semifinal. With the Knights (19-0) up a goal and a man-down, Middletown had a free position opportunity when Century and goalie Becca Mullinix stopped it, quickly moved the ball and Jane Brewer finished the play with a goal.
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Shortly before the halftime, as Middletown aimed to trim the deficit, Bornyek knocked the ball out of the stick of a Middletown player readying for a point-blank shot. Again, the ball went the other way and became a Century goal as its lead swelled to five at halftime.
“It shows them when we make such a big stop and we get the momentum and get the ball down as quick as we can to try to score, that’s a huge play and we started the play to get them to score,” Wunder said.
“They’re huge momentum changers. Those plays translate to offense for us,” Groves added. “It gives our attack the confidence to transition because they know if we do lose the ball the defense can make the stop and get it back.”
Mullinix has stepped in as a freshman, winning a close three-way competition for the starting goalie spot. Her strong play in goal has enabled the defense in front of her to take more chances, defender Abby Fleishell said.
“If you’re trying to intercept the ball or doing something a little bit risky, you know that you’re fine,” Fleishell said. “We got our teammates to back us up and we got Becca to create a big stop. She gives us a lot of support. We know she’s there for us.”
The defenders as a whole agree there’s a sense they get overlooked. But that’s just fine if opponents come into a game not realizing how tough breaking through Century’s defense is.
“They never look at the defense,” Fleishell said. “Against Glenelg, we created a lot of turnovers and I think that a lot of teams aren’t ready for our defense because we’re strong, we communicate well, we slide well as a team, and a lot of teams don’t see that.”