HURRICANE, W.Va. -- It seems like a million years ago now, but last fall’s sports came and went without a hitch.
That included soccer, where Hurricane’s girls team fell a little short of defending its 2018 Class AAA state title with a 2-0 loss to Morgantown in the state semifinals.
The Redskins made headlines thanks to a high-octane offense led by rising junior striker Bailey Fisher, who set the unofficial state record for goals in a season last year with 66 in winning state player of the year honors.
But what many may not have realized is that the Redskins boasted one of the best defensive units in the state as well, yielding just eight goals in 23 games, with five of them coming in two losses to the Mohigans, the eventual state champions.
Fisher didn’t play in that state tournament semifinal after tearing her ACL. As this summer’s three-week practice period draws to a close, her status for the fall is still in doubt.
But luckily for Hurricane, the team still has that vaunted defensive unit completely intact. With Fisher’s injury and the graduation of the team’s other forward a year ago, Dani Ray, the Redskins will depend heavily on that defense, especially early on.
“Sayings are sayings because there’s a kernel of truth in them,” coach Shelly Young said at a workout on Tuesday. “‘Offense wins games, but defense wins championships.’ Yes, we are relying on that defensive line as we have for years. We’re going to continue to rely on them.”
That line is made up of four seniors and a sophomore, with defender Abby Fowler and goalie Olivia Bird earning first-team All-State honors a year ago. Sydnee Bell and Maddie Mayberry round out the senior nucleus of the unit, with Madison Francis, a rising sophomore, rounding out the group.
For Bird, Fowler, Bell and Mayberry, this year will be the last for four players who have played together at the back end for years before their high school careers started. Bell, Fowler and Mayberry are all poised to start for the fourth straight season while Bird enters her third season starting in goal for the Redskins.
In addition to experience and athleticism, that familiarity and cohesiveness have been key factors in the team’s success.
“I think that is a tremendous amount of why we are as good as we are,” Bell said. “It’s easy to communicate and we have a lot of trust, knowing if we can’t get to a ball, we have backup. We just trust each other and it’s just a bond like no other.”
Bell went on to say that all four players along the defensive line bring unique factors, both athletically and mentally, that allow them all to fit together.
“For me, I’m more of an offensive-minded defender, so I’m playing back but I also play offensively as well,” Bell said. “Abby Fowler is the last straw, super-fast, very aggressive — if we can’t get it, she’ll get it. Maddie Mayberry is soccer smart. She knows how to set up a play and knows what to do with the ball and when to do it. And Madison Francis is also offensive-minded and has very good ball skill. I think all four of those put together, it just makes for about the best back line you can possibly have.”
While Fisher and Bird, with her 19 shutouts, stole most of the public attention a year ago, Bell and her fellow defenders are more than OK with that if it translates to wins on the field. Bell said it also serves as a motivating factor.
“Not getting talked about as much, it motivates you, but a lot of people do know our back line,” Bell said. “When they think of our team they think of the defense because we’re a very defensive team.”
Still, with Ray now gone and Fisher’s return in doubt, the Redskins will likely have to find a way to produce some sort of offense to match the team’s strength on the back end.
Young said the team has six freshmen participating in workouts, and added some new faces will see time on defense to prepare the program for the season.
Young said Hurricane’s offense may be an experiment through much of the regular season as the Redskins search for the best options and lineup before the postseason arrives. That includes the possibility of moving defenders to forward if they provide the best options.
“That’s one of the things we’re looking at, how to generate offense,’” Young said. “We’re trying people in a lot of different positions up until the playoffs to see what is best for chemistry and best for the team.”