Prep Soccer: Mercer defenders only care about wins
Mercer celebrated a regional title in soccer last week. (Clay Jackson / October 22, 2012)
While the Mercer County boys have a handful of talented offensive players, their best season ever has been built in large part on an airtight defense whose members are considerably less recognizable but no less valuable.
Those defenders have helped No. 9 Mercer reach the state tournament for the first time and have made the Titans one of the best defensive teams in the state. The Titans have placed a premium on shutouts, and there have been plenty of them, as they have kept opponents off the scoreboard in 13 of their 21 victories, including three of their four postseason wins.
And the defenders who have authored those shutouts say they’re happy to keep doing their job while other teammates do the more glamorous work of scoring goals.
“We don’t get some of the glory that everybody else gets, scoring the goals and the assists and everything, but the shutouts, that’s what we want,” junior Dylan Carss said. “We want to win the games. Us in the back, we don’t care about goals and assists.”
Mercer’s defense will face perhaps its toughest test yet Tuesday when it makes its state tournament debut in a first-round game at No. 2 Paul Dunbar, but the Titans are looking forward to the challenge.
“We want to see the best players, the best teams the state can offer,” Carss said. “We’re going to play our best, so we just want go out and get a win.”
The Titans have been among the very best defensive teams in Kentucky this season. They entered last week’s regional tournament tied for third in goals allowed per game behind only powerhouses Trinity, Bowling Green and St. Xavier, and their average fell from 0.73 goals allowed per game to 0.68 after they allowed only one goal in three games in the regional.
“It just shows how hard we’re work. We’re so close, and everybody’s playing together,” Carss said.
The back line of Carss, senior Corey Brown, junior Nathan Sheehan and sophomore Matthew Raskin has been forged into a strong unit through countless hours on the field together.
“Just the amount of time we’ve played together weve played together since middle school in select soccer and school soccer — helps us,” Brown said. “We’ve grown together as a brotherhood instead of just a team, so this team is our family. It’s like a brother relationship. You always have that special connection between each and every one of us.”
Brown said that closeness and the Titans’ hard work helped take them to new heights this season.
“I think it had a lot to do with our mentality this year and also with the training we went through with our coach. Coach (Matt Vogel) helped a lot, but also the closeness of our players this year and the family-like atmosphere helped us all grow together as a team and know each other’s playing patterns so that we didn’t really have to talk as much, we knew how each other played,” he said.
Like most defenders, Mercer’s back line has little impact on offense, at least statistically speaking. Raskin (two goals) and Sheehan (one) are the only ones among them who have scored, and the foursome has combined for 10 assists. But they said they know their work on defense contributes to the offense as well.
“If we didn’t have the guys up front like Landon (Souder) and Mason (Angel, the team’s leading scorers), we wouldn’t have the great success that we have. But since we have such a strong defensive line in the back, that leads to a lot of help, getting up the field and getting those looks to the forwards and midfield to get those numbers,” Brown said.
Mercer has allowed more than one goal only three times this season, and senior Corey Brown said zero is always the target number.
“We take a lot of pride in that,” Brown said. “That’s our goal every game, we’ve got to get a shutout, because not only does it look good in the stats, but we feel good about ourselves and that (goalkeeper) Slade (Ransdell) didn’t have to get that many touches on the ball. It makes us feel good, and I know he likes it.”
Brown said he hopes that tradition lasts a long, long time, but he also hopes this season lasts a while longer, too — at least beyond Tuesday and the Titans’ next game.
“This year, it’s a special moment, and when we get there we’re going to give them our best. It means a lot to us, because we were always (told) that we weren’t going to win, and now that we’re up there we have a chance,” he said. “If we play our best, we hope we can play with anybody in the state.”