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The defense can never rest

The tests come in waves over 80 minutes of soccer and the margin of error can be downright slim for a defender.

A misjudged through ball that sneaks behind the last line; trying to step in to take a ball away at the wrong time; or simply giving a dangerous striker a little too much space to work. Any of those slip-ups can turn into a goal and the difference between winning and not.

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Such is the life of defenders, the game's most unheralded players who have their own unique craft, personalities and passion.

"It can be a little frustrating -- you don't get recognized as much," said River Hill senior sweeper Shelley McDuff, a second-team All-Metro selection last season. "But the people who really know soccer can see you're a quality defender, and it's always said defense wins games. So it's also pretty rewarding at times, too."

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The season promises to be particularly challenging for defenders throughout the metro area, with an ample supply of creative midfielders and gifted finishers returning.

Try stopping Notre Dame Prep's dynamic midfielder Zoey Bouchelle, or Centennial's Hayley Siegel, or Century's Kelly Kasper. Up front, there's McDonogh's Brittany Tegeler to deal with, River Hill's Kara Lewis to worry about and John Carroll's Ashley Myers to shut down.

In all, 14 All-Metro strikers and midfielders from last season (seven from the first team and seven from the second team) are back to wreak havoc on defenses. Any tips for starters?

"When you're marking a key player, you have to be aware of where they are at all times. It's all a personal challenge, but you also have to be able to play as a unit," said Notre Dame Prep's defensive midfielder Kayce Blandford.

Coaches look for a number of traits in a quality defender and at the top of most lists is attitude, or as St. Mary's coach Jerry Tobin puts it: "Kind of a bulldog mentality that you're just not going to let anybody by you."

Added South River coach Keith Fontaine, who will rely on seniors Crystal Curry and Lindsay Sheppard to lead the Seahawks' defense: "Defenders are your no-fear players. They're going to take some bruises and they have a presence to them. Those kids know their job and are proud to do it. They're the ones that are willing to make sacrifices."

There's more to defensive play from a tactical standpoint and that begins with playing smart. And while most defensive players are aggressive by nature, there are also times when patience must be practiced.

"I really believe in the philosophy that a patient defender is really the one who succeeds because eventually an offensive player will make a mistake," said Notre Dame Prep coach Chris Lopez. "Risk-taking has to be really conservative. We like to have tight off-the-ball marking and try to avoid the big play by relying on containing the player who has the ball."

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Once a ball is won, doing something positive with it comes next. McDonogh coach Maurice Boylan encourages his defenders to get forward and make things happen. The Eagles will count on senior central defenders Samantha Holland and Nikki Bell to control the back.

"We need our backs to be skillful because we want them coming out of the back and attacking," he said. "We always say 'Go forward, get your name in the paper.' That's our line for our backs."

While McDuff is the lone All-Metro defender returning (Amy Morrison, a fellow second-team pick from South River, has moved to midfield this fall), there are plenty of talented backs to make things tough for all those goal scorers.

Century's Mandy Psenicska and Liberty's Kristen Hannon were first-team All-Carroll County choices that return; Perry Hall sweeper Ashley Carroll claimed first-team All-Baltimore City/County honors; Glenelg's Kelly Glacken and Atholton's Stacy Grenier joined McDuff on Howard County's first team; and Severna Park's Haley Cramer (expected to miss the first half of the season due to injury) and Chesapeake's Tracey Dahlen were first-team selections that are back in Anne Arundel County. North Harford's Constance Grabowski and C. Milton Wright's Sarah Gallion are a couple of top defenders in Harford County.


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