While the emotions after Century girls soccer’s 1-0 state championship win over Glenelg on Friday night were nothing but joy and excitement, it was the opposite feeling at the beginning of the game.
Less than two minutes into Friday’s Class 2A final, star defender Jane Brewer left the game with an injury and did not return.
Losing Brewer was tough. She’s a senior leader for the team, a key piece of Century’s stout defense and an experienced champion, also playing on the school’s state championship lacrosse team.
But championship teams typically feature players ready and capable of stepping up when they’re needed most. Friday, that person was Sheridan Cline.
“It was definitely alarming,” Cline said of being called upon so quickly. “But I was so ready because I was so pumped up because it was a big game.”
Cline estimates that she typically plays a little less than 20 minutes a half. But two minutes in, her number was called and she played phenomenally the rest of the game.
“Jane is a big leader of our team and the team’s morale, we were a little down [after her injury],” Cline said. “But it took a lot of courage for me to come out there and do what she could do and try to fill her shoes and make sure she knows someone has her back.”
“Sheridan has a purpose on this team and she stepped in right away,” coach Chris Little said. “She plays a lot of minutes for us anyway, so every one of the players on our team has a purpose.”
Cline actually had to leave the game a minute and a half after entering after taking a ball to the face. She was evaluated on the sideline and soon reentered. She didn’t leave the field again until she had her gold medal.
“I’ve played travel soccer for a while and on those teams I’ve played the whole game,” Cline said. “This is what I train for in practice. I was definitely prepared for it.”
Defense has been Century’s calling card this year. The Knights won seven straight games, including all five playoff games, without allowing a goal.
“Our goalie [Mia Graff] is just amazing. And I think our defensive line is very strong,” Cline said. “Emily Beall-Dennell and Bella Mastria, they are so great in the center back positions, they hold a wall there, and Bella’s speed is so great, she can run down anyone on the field.”
Friday’s matchup with Glenelg was perhaps their toughest test. Gladiators star striker Stephanie Lathrop was a 20-goal scorer, but the Century back line of Cline, Mastria, Beall-Dennell and Natalie Mattox kept her from getting many good looks at the net.
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“We definitely watched a lot of film and we knew she would try to do these little moves that would flick the ball over,” Cline said. “We made sure we defended her correctly so she couldn’t get past us.”
“One of the things they do quite a bit of is they do a lot of film study,” Little said. “They watch other teams, they watch their opponents, they watch themselves. They look to see how they can create an advantage back there, the four defensive backs and the goalie, to be able to be successful.”
As with any great unit, communication is key. The Century defenders have worked so much together, communication has given way to instinct.
“Over the season we began to learn how each other work and I feel like we didn’t even have to communicate that much toward the end, we just knew what to do at all times,” Beall-Dennell said. “We didn’t really let anything by us.”
The talent on Century’s back line enables the Knights to take chances and not worry that one mistake will mean a goal or a loss. It just means someone else will step up and make a play.
“It was nice knowing that if I did end up getting beat by someone, that Emily was behind me or Mia was behind me,” Mastria said. “I just knew I always had someone behind me to stop the girl if they got by me.”
There’s always someone ready to step up.