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In Columbus North’s back-to-back runs to the boys soccer state finals, goals have come and gone, but team defense has been a constant.
That’s especially been the case this year, when the sixth-ranked Bull Dogs have put together a 16-1-4 record. They’ve allowed an average of less than a goal a game heading into Saturday’s state finals matchup with No. 2 Warsaw at IUPUI’s Michael A. Carroll Track & Soccer Stadium.
“I think that it is more than just the summation of its parts,” senior center back McClain Goggin said of defense. “Everybody works together, and because of that, it’s a lot stronger.”
Goggin is one of five senior starters on the back line for North. He and Mason Engel are the center backs, Reid Wilson and Chris Gorbett are the outside backs, and Chase Francoeur is the goalkeeper. Another senior defender, Robbie Hughes, sees considerable action.
“We have a strong group of seniors that has played together since we were pretty young,” Wilson said. “We’re really confident in each other. And we trust each other, and we really improved our communication and played really solid in the back. We all know our roles, and we know how we need to cover for each other when they have the ball.”
The Bull Dogs have posted 11 shutouts and allowed just 19 goals in 21 games this season.
“I’d say our biggest strength is just keeping our communication up,” Engel said. “Mac and I work really well together. If someone steps forward, the other one will drop back and make sure we always have pressure and cover and balance. Our best quality as a defense is organization.”
“I think we’ve been working together pretty well, and we have a pretty solid back five,” Hughes said. “If we fill each other’s holes, we can basically keep anyone out of the back. We work together to put on high pressure and keep the ball out of the back of the net.”
At the same time, the outside backs have the freedom to push forward into the offensive attack. Wilson, who also has played some forward and midfield, is the team’s fourth-leading scorer with four goals and 11 points. Gorbett has a goal and four assists, and Hughes has two goals and two assists.
“We play an interesting shape where we need all 11 players to defend, but the back four is doing a good job,” North coach Andy Glover said. “We may give up a few, but we try to hold each other accountable to score goals, as well. I’ve been very pleased with the defensive effort as a team. I’m just really pleased with the amount of hard work they’ve put in.”
“I feel like we’ve done a really good job focusing on our tasks specifically, and our outside backs have done really well getting forward into the attack,” Engel said. “So our motto kind of is ‘The best defense is a good attack,’ and that’s why we allow our outside backs to get forward so much.”
Francoeur, who missed the beginning of the year with a concussion, split time in goal with junior Ben Davis for much of the season, and junior Matt Verplank also has seen action. Francoeur became the full-time goalkeeper just before the tournament and has posted a 0.87 goals-against average with five shutouts.
“I think our back line has done really well,” Francouer said. “We’ve all played together since we were really young, so we all really know each other and know what our strengths and weaknesses are. Our defense has been doing a really good job protecting me, and I haven’t had to really do much yet.”
“Chase has had a very good year,” Glover said. “We have three very fine goalkeepers on the squad. Honestly, the gaps in terms of ability between the three is very tidy. At the moment, we’ve kind of settled in with Chase, but in the event we should be encountering an injury or needing to make some changes, I feel confident in the other two boys, as well.”
Glover said organization, communication and a blue-collar work ethic are the strengths of the defense. He feels confident with the senior leadership he has on that end of the field.
“It’s been very helpful,” Glover said. “The back four are essentially coaches on the field. The game is entirely in front of them, and they do a really good job of communicating not only in ensuring that their roles and responsibilities are taken care of, but helping ensure that the six in front of them are also organized in approach, not only in attack, but also on the defensive side.”
“I think we trust one another with the spots that we play at,” Gorbett said. “I think we’re just in a really good groove right now.”
The Bull Dogs will be looking to atone for last year’s state title-game loss to Crown Point on penalty kicks. Wilson, Goggin and Engle were starters on that squad.
“We don’t lose twice,” Engel said. “So I feel good about it.”
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