Getting Defensive: North’s defense turning away opponents

As the girls soccer season has progressed, Columbus North coach Derek Stewart has utilized several different lineup combinations.

Perhaps nowhere has that been more evident than on the Bull Dogs’ back line. Yet, no matter what combination he has put in which spot, they have been productive, allowing only eight goals in 17 games.

“It’s a huge factor of our success,” Stewart said. “We had a lot of early combinations, but I think we’ve settled into a pretty good combination, and we still have flexibility. We can rotate players in and out.”

Last week, the Bull Dogs, ranked No. 20 in Class 2A, posted back-to-back shutouts against Seymour and Columbus East to win their first sectional title since 2014.

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North (11-2-4) will play Batesville (13-3) in the East Central Regional semifinals at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The winner will play either Floyd Central or Richmond in the finals at 6 p.m. Saturday.

“During practices, we see what works best, and in games we switch around a lot, and we found a lineup that really suits everybody,” senior co-captain Emma Wilson said. “We’re all in a strong position for our strengths and weaknesses. We’ve had a couple underclassmen step into some big roles in the back, and they’ve done tremendously. We’re winning every single ball in the air, and that is tremendously helpful.”

Wilson and fellow senior co-captain Marina Hughes began the season as the Bull Dogs’ center backs. Now, they are playing outside back — Hughes on the left side and Wilson on the right side.

Stewart made the move in an attempt to utilize their speed and offensive ability.

“We wanted to get a little bit higher up the field on the flanks, and those guys are pretty seasoned and tend to like to go forward a little bit,” Stewart said. “We wanted to get them into the attack.”

Now playing center back are senior Elizabeth Craig and sophomore Elise Whitley. Craig has been a midfielder for most of her career.

Craig, who started season as a center midfielder, hadn’t played defense since doing it for a club team a few years ago.

“It’s different, but I like it,” Craig said.

Meanwhile, Whitley played mostly forward and midfield her first year-and-a-half at North. She began this season at forward and outside midfield.

Whitley, who plays holding mid or center back on her club team, moved back to center back about three-fourths of the way through the regular season.

“I enjoy it a lot more than playing outside mid or forward because I feel like I’m better at center back,” Whitley said.

Stewart likes having Craig and Whitley at center back.

“Liz is tall and fairly strong and fast,” Stewart said. “She’s kind of a natural fit in the center. Then, Elise is very technical and connects with just about any ball, which is huge.”

A few other players who are now at other positions have contributed to the Bull Dogs’ success on the back line this season.

Junior Corrine Orben started the season at left back, and seniors Claire Risley and Katlin Meek played right back. Another senior, Reagan Ward, also saw some action in the back, and like the other three, now plays mostly in the midfield.

“It’s nice that we have that depth where we can put different players in different positions,” Stewart said.

North also has benefited from solid goalkeeper play this season. Senior Charlotte Verbanic, who started in goal her freshman and junior season and at the beginning of this year, has allowed four goals in 325 minutes and is now a field player.

Junior Liz Tynan, who took over as the starter midway through the season, has allowed four goals in 979 minutes.

“It’s not just us,” Wilson said. “We have a solid, solid keeper behind us that’s covering up all of our mistakes.”

Not that they’ve needed a lot of help.

“I think we’re just communicating really well on who to mark up and where we need to be at certain times, so we’re preventing goals,” Hughes said.

Hughes is the only one of the three current senior defensive starters planning to play in college. She has committed to St. Francis.

Together, they want to continue their tournament run as long as possible.

“We always want to go as far as we can, especially the three of us,” Hughes said. “It’s our last season. We’d like to make it to state and win.”

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East Central Regional


5 p.m.: Floyd Central vs. Richmond

7 p.m.: Columbus North vs. Batesville


6 p.m.: Championship


Columbus North Regional


6 p.m.: Columbus North vs. Floyd Central

8 p.m.: Richmond vs. East Central


2 p.m.: Championship

“It’s not just us,” Wilson said. “We have a solid, solid keeper behind us that’s covering up all of our mistakes.”