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Molly Macy and Olivia Smith began playing soccer together when they were 9.
Kristen Bellinger, Kayla Halterman and Elisa Watkins joined them soon after, and their years of playing together with the Columbus Express have carried over to the high school ranks.
The quintet, which forms the defensive unit for Class 2A co-No. 20 Columbus East, hasn’t allowed a goal in five postseason games this season. They’ll try to continue that streak Saturday when the Olympians (17-2-1) face No. 2 Avon in the Evansville Harrison Semi-state.
“I think something that makes our defense special is that we’re all best friends,” said Macy, a senior. “We’ve been playing together for a long time, and it helps our communication.”
Macy and Watkins, a sophomore, are the center backs. Smith, a senior, and Bellinger, a junior, are the outside backs.
Halterman, a junior, filled in for Bellinger when she was sidelined with a hamstring injury.
“Our back line definitely has good chemistry, and over the season and even in past seasons, we’ve gotten to know each other better on and off the field, and it’s definitely helped,” Bellinger said.
“Also, it’s helps with the rest of the team being so close and makes everything better.”
East has allowed only 10 goals in 20 games this season. The Olympians have 13 shutouts, including seven in the Hoosier Hills Conference, when they outscored their opponents by a combined 49-0.
“It feels good knowing that our hard work paid off and that we’re communicating,” said Smith, who has committed to play at IPFW.
“I think it’s communication,” Watkins said. “The first few games were definitely rough; but throughout the season, we’ve gotten so much better at it.”
Bellinger played the first few games of the season before injuring the hamstring. She missed three games before coming back and aggravating it. She sat out until the sectional final, when the Olympians downed Columbus North 2-0,
“It’s definitely been a struggle not being able to be on the field supporting my team,” Bellinger said. “But my team has supported me through the whole thing, and they’ve helped keep me positive. It’s been a rough experience, but they’ve all been great and had my back the whole time.”
That includes Halterman, who filled in admirably while Bellinger was out.
“I was very nervous most of the time,” Halterman said. “It was hard to fill Kristen’s spot.”
Goalkeepers Spencer and Bryn Eudy have been the beneficiaries of the defense’s stinginess, combining for a 0.50 goals against average.
“They’ve worked hard and come a long way from last year,” Spencer Eudy said. “They help out a lot. I know I can trust them to back me up.”
East coach Ilya Schwartzman also pointed to defensive midfielders Hayden Lang and Olivia Darnell and center midfielder Sydney Newell, who sometimes rotates back into a defensive position, as keys to the defensive effort.
“Our defense has been tremendous throughout the season, and we’re pleased with everyone’s performance,” Schwartzman said. “Soccer is a team sport. We defend as a team.”
The Olympians also score as a team, and the defenders have been involved in the attack. Macy ranks third on the team in scoring with 11 goals and an assist. Smith and Watkins each have three goals and two assists, while Bellinger has two goals and five assists, and Halterman has a goal and two assists.
Macy scored both goals in the sectional title game win over North, which had won the previous six years.
“It feels good knowing our team keeps advancing and knowing that, as a team, we’re going to semi-state when we’ve been waiting for so long, getting beat in sectional every year,” Macy said. “It’s pretty rewarding.”
East will look to extend its shutout streak at least two more games Saturday. If the Olympians get past Avon, they would play No. 9 Evansville Memorial or No. 12 Center Grove in the finals.
“Our plan is to continue that (shutout) trend, and if we play the way we know how to play, I think it’s entirely possible,” Schwartzman said. “The competition certainly will be stiff, but I think we have a very talented group of players who are capable of that achievement.”
Smith added, “The competition is going to be tough, but if we play our game, I think we have a good chance.”
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