NORTH ADAMS -- When the season started, McCann Tech girls’ soccer coach Mike Dowling knew his team’s offense would be just fine.
The defense on the other hand had him a little worried.
He moved sophomore C.J. Schleich from the front line to sweeper because he had no one else to play the position and she was willing to learn.
Dowling thought his offense would have to score a lot of goals to protect a young defense and repeat as 2011 Tri-County League champions. Led by senior Mary Nguyen’s 42 goals, the offense did score a lot -- 73 in the regular season -- but the defense carried a lot of the weight, allowing just 14 goals and helping the Hornets repeat as league champs.
"My outside fullbacks Kaylee McNeice and Danielle Gibeau do a good job on the outside and C.J. is really solid in the middle. They really cover each other," Dowling said. "It’s all part of the defensive scheme, and when I started this year I didn’t have a defense. Now, I probably have one of the better defenses."
Schleich was slated to be a role player on offense when the season began, but when Dowling asked her to give sweeper a shot, she couldn’t resist. In the interest of helping her team and being on the field as much as possible, she accepted the challenge.
She spent last season coming off the bench as a midfielder and, prior to her team’s first game this season, had never played a second on
"I was nervous coming in," she said. "I’ve never played [sweeper] and the girl who played sweeper last year, Brittany Briggs, was an idol for me. I loved her and I just wanted to be like her and didn’t want to let her down."
After a full season, the transition appears to be a success. Schleich has stood as the last line of defense in front of goalkeeper Alex Wood all season. On its way to a 16-1-1 record and the Tri-County championship, McCann recorded 10 shutouts on the season. The team also claimed the No. 3 seed in the Western Massachusetts Division III tournament.
Schleich now doesn’t dare think about playing another position on the field.
"I absolutly love this position," the sophomore said. "I love seeing everything in front of me. I love being able to control the backfield and being able to move the ball up and then watch all the magic happen in front of me."
Dowling won’t have to worry about finding another sweeper to take her place next year, as she’s developed into one of the better defenders on his team.
"She’s probably our most valuable defender for sure," senior Alex Lincoln said. "She’s always back there and she’s always telling everyone where to be and where the ball is going."
Nguyen called Schleich "the most improved player on the team." She has improved because of her ability to accept coaching and soak up any knowledge that she can.
"She is a joy to coach, whatever you tell her she sucks up like a spounge and tries to apply it," Dowling said. "She’s always been a tough cookie, but she’s learning to control the ball and learning to see the field more. She is more aware and she’s becoming a real soccer player.
"She hasn’t stopped learning or missed a beat the whole year. She’s done everything I asked and given us everything you could possibly expect out of a sophomore."
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