Central's defense has helped reach big goal

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Central goalie Tony Leuckel spends most games watching the action, wondering when it will be his turn to touch the ball.

The Tigers' junior goalie has more shutouts than goals allowed this season, but he's averaged only about four saves a game. Leuckel has seen 11 balls pass by him, good enough for a 0.53 goals-against average.

"That's definitely an accomplishment," Leuckel said. "You certainly don't expect to put up those types of numbers."

Even though Leuckel's numbers have been impressive this season, he's the first to point out that it's the defense as a whole that deserves the credit.

"They hustle a lot," he said. "They're like a wall back there."

James Russell, Josh Fee, Matt Hellrich and Dean Richardson form one of the state's top group of defenders. Those four, along with the rest of the Tigers (24-0), will look to keep up their defensive strength when they face Francis Howell North (18-6-2) in a Class 3 sectional game at 7 p.m. at Houck Stadium.

What gives these defenders an edge against the opposition is their speed. Even if a defender is beaten or a long ball is played over the top, Central's back four are almost always in position to run a forward down or have another defender step up to make a tackle.

"We have a lot of speed in the back and we tackle pretty hard," Russell said.

It probably isn't surprising that of Central's four starting defenders, three are captains. Their on-field leadership and communication skills are a key aspect in their ability to keep opposing teams off the scoreboard.

And with such an experienced group in the backfield, there are few breakdowns. Central's defenders know where they need to be on the field and don't get caught out of position.

"They don't make many mistakes," Central coach Tom Doyle said, "and even when they do they're quick enough to recover."

Despite this group's success in the backfield, they're not stay-at-home defenders. In the Tigers' style of play, all 10 field players often get into the attack.

Central's defenders also are often used as outlets for the offense. When a midfielder gets in trouble, he'll usually pass the ball to one of the defenders to get the offense restarted.

Russell said all of the defenders do a good job of getting into the offense.

"We like to play as a unit," he said. "We're able to play possession very well in the backfield."

Central's opponent tonight brings in an offense that has scored 66 goals in 26 games. Jack Traynor leads the Knights with 17 goals and Tony Novelly has 15.

The Tigers' offense, on the other hand, has scored nearly 100 goals this season and is led by Central's all-time leading goalscorer, Heath Orr, who has 31.

Doyle said he knows defeating a strong squad like Howell North will be tough but thinks this is the year to end Central's eight-game sectional losing streak.

"It's definitely time to beat the jinx," he said. "I feel like this team is kind of a team of destiny."

With 13 seniors on the roster, the Tigers won't worry about players not knowing what to expect in the sectional playoffs.

"They all played in the sectionals," Doyle said, "and they all know how it felt when they lost last year."

jjoffray@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 171

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