After four years at Champion High School, senior Jenna Parry has accrued three all-Ohio honors as the team's sweeper, but despite her individual success, she struggles to make herself comfortable playing as the last line of defense.
Parry's club team utilizes a flat backline, not a sweeper-stopper system. So, whenever she puts on a Champion uniform and steps into the sweeper role, she said she finds herself in a very different situation.
Luckily for Parry, she has a great partner at stopper in fellow senior co-captain Danielle James, and Parry said she couldn't participate in a diamond backline otherwise.
Tribune Chronicle / Dave Dermer
Champion’s Danielle James, left, heads the ball away from Rootstown’s Jacqueline Moss (32) during last week’s district championship game, a 1-0 victory for Champion.
"I'm not very comfortable in general with the sweeper-stopper style of play, and she's (James) really the only one I can run it with," Parry said. "We communicate very well together, and there's no one I'd rather have playing right in front of me.
"She's good at containing and she prevents a lot of the balls that would normally get to me from getting to me. She takes a lot of the workload off, which I really appreciate."
The Golden Flashes (14-3-2) have ridden the play of both of these players, along with the rest of the defensive unit and goalkeeper Kelly Robinson, to a spot in a Division III regional semifinal against Hawken at 7 p.m. tonight at Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School. Champion has allowed just 11 goals all season and just one goal in the tournament.
While a sweeper's main role is to clean up any dangerous ball that gets behind the defense, the stopper's job is to shield the sweeper.
A stopper should win as many challenges as possible, especially in the area right in front of the backline, and if the sweeper is marking an opposing team's forward, the stopper made a mistake.
With the emphasis on the connection between the positions, sweepers and stoppers need to have a good understanding, and both James and Parry said they do.
"I think we just work really well together," James said. "We've been playing together for six years in the same spots, so we kind of know how each other moves and how each other works."
To go along with her defensive efforts, Champion coach Dan Houle pointed to her distribution skill as one of her best attributes.
Instead of clearing the ball whenever it reaches the defense, she tries to pick out a teammate to start a counterattack, Houle said. This proves vital in creating offense on a very defensive team.
"She's got good skills with the ball, good quick feet," Houle said. "She knows how to make her distributions. When she sends the ball up, she just doesn't blindly send it - she makes an effort to send it to someone who has the same color jersey as her. That's not always the case with everybody. You have to have quick eyes, and she does."
In order for the Flashes to have any success against the Hawks (13-1-5), James, Parry and the rest of the defense will have to be on the top of their games. Hawken averages 4.37 goals per game this season and put 11 past Cardinal Mooney, the Austintown district champion, in both teams' first match of the season on Aug. 17.
That result has resounded with the team, as both Parry and James mentioned it when discussing their opponent.
"I feel like we're going to have to play a very defensive game (today), but for the entire year, our defense has been our strong point and we're a relatively low-scoring team," Parry said. "A lot of our strength comes from the back, so I think that we should be OK in that aspect."
For only the third time in program history, the Flashes are playing in a regional semifinal, but in the previous two tries, they didn't go past that round. James said the team wants to become the first team to take the next step, even if it's a tall task against the reigning regional champion.
"It would mean so much, especially since our school has never done that before," James said. "There's never been a girls team that made it past regional semis, so that would be such an amazing accomplishment, especially for my last year and Houle's last year."