When Andrea Ames took over the Meridian girls' soccer program three years ago, Trinell Carpenter, Leyla Marino and Kelsea Clark let her know they were defenders.
Starters the year before as freshmen, Ames inserted the trio in her backline.
What she didn't realize, until almost the end of the season, was Carpenter, Marino and Clark, who've all played soccer since they were youths, never played defense before their freshman year.
Carpenter was a midfielder and Marino and Clark played forward.
"The year before we came up, a lot of seniors graduated and most of the players on the field were on offense, so we ended up on defense," Carpenter said in a phone interview. "None of us had played defense before."
Ames learned two things.
The first was how versatile her defense is. Secondly, she reailzied how committed her players were to creating a winning team.
"I would have never known they used to be strikers," Ames said in a phone interview. "It shows they are quick learners and were willing to do that for the team. The biggest thing is that it embodies that attitude of, 'yep, we're going to embrace this, because it's best for the team.'"
Fast forward two years, and Carpenter, Marino, Clark, as well as junior sweeper Karissa Culley and senior keeper Abbi Rautenberg, have formed one of the top defenses in Whatcom County.
The Trojans have surrendered only 24 goals in 21 matches and have posted 10 shutouts, while Ames and Carpenter said Rautenberg is enjoying her finest year in goal as a Trojan.
"She is definitely having her best year since I started coaching her," Ames said. "She is being a lot more vocal this year. She is a little more on the quiet side, so for her to be loud on the field is a little outside her comfort zone. She has made some good one-on-one stops."
Meridian will try to add its 11th shutout when it faces Elma in the first round of the Class 1A State Tournament Wednesday, Nov. 7.
Ames' starting defense, not including Rautenberg, has a combined 15 years of starting experience. Carpenter is serving her third year as team captain.
Meridian's defensive leadership, chemistry and camaraderie is why Ames believes her backline is the club's engine.
"Our D goes as our offense goes," Ames said. "It is great to know that they all know what they are supposed to do. Having a group that has played that long together is really really unusual. Usually you get a mix of players in different grades."
Carpenter considers her veteran defense a safety net for the Trojans' talented attacking players, such as Taylor Lunde and Lexi McKinnon, who have tallied 13 and 10 goals, respectively.
"We have a lot of speed on our team, and it's nice that (attacking players) are not the only ones winning the game," Carpenter said. "Everyone plays defense, but it's nice for them to know we can help them out and that saves them energy."
Earlier in the year, Ames said in all her years coaching and playing, she has never been a part of a team that gets together as well as her 2012 Trojans.
Carpenter, Meridian's ASB President, is largely responsible for the way her team has bonded together. It's her leadership on the field and personality off that makes her a strong team role model.
"I can not say enough good things about Trinell Carpenter," Ames said. "She is a rock star on and off the field. It is her third year as a captain and, for you to be a captain as a sophomore, that says something about your leadership skills. She is the kind of player who is all in. Two minutes into the game, two minutes into practice, she is drenched in sweat."
There may be no better example of Carpenter's willingness to play for her team than what she thought of her move from midfielder to defense at the beginning of her high school career.
Goal scorers grab headlines and glory and may be less inclined to play an often thankless defense position.
"It's just been nice (playing defense), because I know I'm doing something for the team," she said. "You make a stop and get really happy, and then you're back on the attack. It doesn't matter who gets the goals. You're helping the team. That's the best thing."
Meridian will certainly need its defense in top form as well as its veteran leadership during state. Not much has discouraged the Trojans, who Ames and Carpenter consider a large group of best friends, the past few years - not even a 2011 shootout loss to Overlake in the opening-round of the 2011 state tournament.
"I think, you know, not only the seniors but the whole team realized, 'you know what? We're pretty good,'" Ames said.
Meridian just hopes to be on the right side of the scoreboard this time around.
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862.
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call 715-2271.