Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Revamped defense keys Forbush soccer success

About a month before the season, Forbush girls soccer coach Kenan James approached returning starters Katelynd Caudle, Sheridan Caudle and Jessica Tucker with a proposition:

Sheridan Caudle, a sophomore, has played a big role in the Falcons' stern defensive efforts this spring.

How about moving to defense?

The three players, each of whom had been standouts in the midfield and/or on the offensive side in 2010, were less than thrilled with the idea.

“We were all pretty mad about it. I’m not going to lie,” said Katelynd Caudle, a senior who has signed to play for Pfeiffer this fall. “We were like, what the heck?”

But all three ultimately agreed to the position shift. And with the Caudle sisters and Tucker roaming the backlines the past few months, defense went from being a huge question mark coming into the season to one of the Falcons’ most valuable assets.

Heading into Wednesday night’s 2A West Regional championship match against visiting Cuthbertson, Forbush has surrendered just 11 goals — and only seven since a 4-3 defeat to 4A West Forsyth in early March.

The Falcons have earned 17 shutouts, including an impressive 4-0 whitewashing of Shelby this past Friday night. No team other than West Forsyth has managed to score on the Falcons more than once in a game.

Pretty impressive numbers for a program that graduated every defensive starter from its 2010 state runner-up roster and filled the holes with midfielders.

“It’s amazing to me losing that defense I had for four years that they are able to come in and do that,” James said. “They are great athletes for one thing and they listen.”

Senior Katelynd Caudle has grown to like being on the defensive side of the field this season at Forbush.

Katelynd Caudle played defense for her club team during middle school. But once she came to Forbush High, she found a home at outside mid, where she used a distinct speed advantage to track down balls on the wings and create breakaway chances. Caudle scored Forbush’s only goal in the 2009 state championship contest, a 2-1 loss to Swansboro.

These days, Katelynd Caudle is using her track-star speed to chase down potential breakaways by opposing forwards. Wilkes Central had such a breakaway attempt in the second half during the third round of the playoffs. Katelynd Caudle seemed to come out of nowhere to cut off the threat and clear the ball back up field.

Katelynd and Sheridan Caudle play as outside defensive backs, with Sheridan often stepping up to take throw-ins further down the field. She can put a ball from the sideline deep into the opposing team’s penalty box.

Tucker has a booming kick and serves as the center back on defense. Freshman Madison Morsch plays a defensive midfield position in front of the “big three” and has made an instant impact as well.

“It’s really weird but I like it a lot,” Katelynd Caudle said of playing defense this season. “When Sheridan and I played outside mid (last year), we still had to come back on defense but now it’s like we are the last thing. It’s a lot more pressure but it is still fun. I honestly like it a lot more than I was expecting to … We work really hard. We work our tails off to make sure they don’t get by.”

Jessica Tucker plays at center back for the Forbush defense, which has only allowed 11 goals this season.

Forbush has used two main goalkeepers this year, senior Kayla Adams and junior Ashley Alderman. Adams was the starting keeper in 2009 but played sparingly last year as she mended from injuries sustained in a serious car wreck the summer before. Adams has seen the most net time in the playoffs so far.

Of course, it helps Falcon defenders to have such an array of offensive weapons in front of them. Jessica Baity is a three-time returning all-conference, all-region and all-state forward. She is having a banner offensive year again, along with her younger sister, Jennifer Baity, and others like Lindsey Lineberry, Tiffany Kennedy, Emma Sjostrand, Haley Lindsay, Veronica Gonzalez, Natalie York and Victoria Cohn

Sjostrand is an exchange student who just kind of fell into James’ lap at the beginning of the school year. She is strong with the ball and has great skills in the midfield

Lineberry has been on top of her game of late, scoring goals in recent wins over Wilkes Central and Shelby. Jennifer Baity is a sophomore and serves essentially as the point guard of the offense. Kennedy, Lindsay, Morsch, Cohn and York are ninth-graders who represent the next wave of talent for what is becoming a 2A girls soccer dynasty in the region. Other contributors to the Final Four run include Jessica Disher, DeAnna Wilkins, Bridia Aguilar and Ashlyn Vestal.

After Friday’s playoff win against Shelby, Jessica Baity pointed to defense as the glue helping hold this year’s team together. The Falcons are now 24-1, ranked first in the state for Class 2A and have won their last 22 games. One more win, and the team is back in the state finals for the fourth consecutive year. Just being in the Final Four is an amazing feat considering all that graduated from the 2010 lineup.

“Coming in this year, I think everybody was really nervous about the defense,” Jessica Baity said. “I don’t think it was something they (the Caudle sisters and Tucker) wanted to do first off — but then again, I was very impressed with them because they all stepped up and said, ‘Whatever you need me to do.’

“They have worked so hard this year. They have trained every day in practice. They are by themselves or they are with coach James doing some kind of defensive training to get better, and they are awesome … They have stepped up and made a complete difference with this team.”

NOTEBOOK: The Forbush-Cuthbertson game is slated to start at 7 p.m. Wednesday in East Bend. The winner will play either Swansboro (14-6-5) or Carrboro (16-2-3) in the 2A state championship game this Friday at 5 p.m. at the WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary.

Forbush beat Cuthbertson in last year’s 2A West final before losing to Swansboro 2-1 in the state championship match. Swansboro also beat the Falcons 2-1 in 2009.

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