Column: Line Drives — Defense is no place for a newbie

[This is my column in the Aug. 31 issue of The Commercial Review.]

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The thought popped into my head again.

“Do I have what it takes to play [insert sport here]?”

I had to find out.

In February, I found myself on the mat — both literally and figuratively — wrestling Gaven Hare, then a Jay County High School junior who a week earlier participated in the IHSAA Wrestling State Finals.

Long story short, I got whooped.

But I had to know.

Do I have what it takes to play, say, soccer? How about volleyball? Can I swim 500 yards?

Over the course of this school year, I hope to answer those questions, and more.

I was a two-sport athlete growing up. I played football in the fall and baseball in the summer.

But I didn’t delve much into the other sports.

Until now.

My 32nd birthday is a mere weeks away and I’m going to find out if I can play soccer, if I can hold my own on a volleyball court and swim 500 yards. I’ll even play a tennis match and get results for the events in a track meet.

And I’m going to do it next to athletes who are half my age, give or take a few years.

Monday I found myself on the pitch with the JCHS girls soccer team a day before it beat South Adams 5-3 for its third consecutive Allen County Athletic Conference championship.

I joined the stretching circle with the Patriots, then made my way to the end of the goal line as we did calisthenics.

Next was completing four laps around the pitch. It was no problem for me, someone who has taken up distance running. I started at the back, but finished near the middle of the pack.

Then we got into groups of three and worked on passing. I was in a group with sophomore midfielder Cheyenne Liette and junior goalkeeper Gwen Omstead.

After that, still in our groups of three, we ran the length of the field, working on a passing weave. The relative sprint wasn’t too difficult, I found. On the other hand, dribbling while running was not as easy as it looks. I often kicked the ball too far in front of me as I was going up the field.

Then it was time to scrimmage — what I was looking forward to most.

Senior Lucy Laux and junior Kendra Muhlenkamp have been lighting up the scoreboard this season to the tune of 15 and 13 goals respectively.

I wanted to do the same, but I didn’t want to demand to play forward. I knew the Patriots had to prepare for Tuesday’s game and I didn’t want to take away meaningful practice for a player who may need it. Rather, I let coach Giles Laux put me wherever he needed a body.

Turns out, that place was on defense. Against Laux and Muhlenkamp. And also senior Breea Liette, who has five goals of her own this season.

Oh boy.

It’s one thing seeing those three run past opposing defenses through a camera lens. But watching them pull away from me as I sprint behind them is not something I wish to do often.

Alas, it’s what I ended up doing more often than I wish to admit.

I allowed more offensive opportunities to the varsity forwards than I turned away. I often found myself attempting to chase down not one, but any combination of those three, trying to keep the ball away from goalkeepers Shelby Caldwell and Omstead.

I wasn’t always so fortunate. At times I over-anticipated a pass or was caught out of position to defend a through ball, and they were the beneficiaries of one-on-one opportunities against my keeper. It generally resulted with the ball in the back of the net, at no fault to Caldwell or Omstead.

There were a number of positives too. I was able to prevent a handful of opportunities, kicking the ball out of bounds or up the field toward my midfielders and forwards. On one occasion, I knocked down a ball with my chest, and was in a one-on-one situation with Liette on (my) left side of the field.

I panicked.

I have no ball skills whatsoever.
But I made a quick fake to my left to get her to step, then broke back to my right and was able to move the ball past her and up field briefly before I sent a pass to the midfield.

It was the highlight of my day.

The most surprising aspect, however, wasn’t how badly I got beaten. That part was expected.
It was a question I got asked with the ball at the opposite end of the field.

“Did you play soccer in high school?” Lucy Laux asked.

Nope.

The only time I played competitively — if I can call it that — was a recreational league when my age was measured not in decades but single digits.

While on the pitch Monday, I took a few breaks, mainly because I was winded, but also to give some of the players reps.

I also almost threw up. Twice.

Short bursts of sprinting coupled with constantly moving on the pitch is a completely different animal than the distance running I’m used to.

Realizing I’m a below-average defender with horrible footwork, I decided soccer is not for me.

But it was a ton of fun.

I’ll just stay on the sidelines from now on.

 

 

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