Sych still on the attack from WWU's back line

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 4, 2013 

Western Washington’s Brina Sych, (11) plays against Northwest Nazarene in this 2011 photo at Orca Field.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

After being an attacker throughout her years playing youth, club and high school soccer, Western Washington University senior Brina Sych was shocked when her high school coach told her she'd make a terrific defender at the next level.

"I've always been an attacking player," Sych said in a phone interview. "I played a little center mid in high school and mostly an attacking outside mid. When my high school coach told me that, I was like, 'You have to be kidding. I don't even know how to play defense.' Then I came here and right away they put me outside back.

"I kept trying to learn it. It's really different from outside mid - the technique and skills are very different and you have different responsibilities. But I've actually gotten to where I like it better than outside mid."

And the Vikings definitely like having her there.

At outside back, Sych has played a vital role in the most successful season in WWU women's soccer history and is a big part of the reason the Vikings will face West Florida at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 5, in the NCAA Division II national semifinals at Evans, Ga. The winner of Thursday's game will face the Grand Valley State-American International winner at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 7, for the national title.

Though Western is playing in the NCAA's Final Four for the first time in program history and facing the defending national champs in the semifinals, Sych said she believes the Vikings can continue their success this weekend.

"We just need to believe," Sych said. "I think if we believe that we can take the championship and believe that we are good enough, we can. I know we are. Then it's just coming out and playing like we're capable of."

The Vikings are a lot more capable with Sych on the back line.

Though he said he didn't know that's where Sych would end up when he recruited her, WWU coach Travis Connell said he knew he was scouting a special athlete when she was playing for Vancouver Union High School.

"Her athleticism stuck out when we watched her going against other players," Connell said. "What she could do physically kind of stuck out like a sore thumb."

Once Connell got Sych into practice, he realized her athleticism was just the half of it.

"She has incredible versatility," Connell said. "When I was recruiting her, I didn't know that she would end up at outside back, but she has such tremendous versatility. She's our most versatile player. She's played every position for us during her career except goaltender. She's played up top, in the middle and on the back line, inside and out - she really takes the cake."

But she's found a home on a WWU back line that has allowed just .360 goals per game this season - sixth lowest in NCAA Division II.

Connell said when you mix Sych's versatility with her competitiveness and bravery she's a natural on defense.

"She loves a one-on-one challenge," he said. "She's always, 'Coach, give me a challenge.' It was that one quality that most made me want to play her in the back and have her be a defender. You have to want to stop people. Everyone wants to score goals, but not everyone takes pride in being a lock-down defender. Brina has the competiveness and guts to do it."

Even though you can take the player out of the attacking position she grew up in, you can't take the attack out of the player.

And Western wouldn't want to, as the Vikings ask Sych to push the ball up the field when the opportunity presents itself.

Western's first goal in its national quarterfinal victory over St. Edward's on Nov. 24, was the perfect example of what Sych can do on the attack.

Six minutes into the game, Sych brought the ball up the right sideline, before centering it with a perfect pass to Kristin Maris, who found a wide-open Catherine Miles on the other side for the game's first goal.

"Brina, she gives us what is similar in basketball to wing players," Connell said. "They're tweeners that can step outside and hit shots, but still have the height to be effective inside. Those types of players create match-up problems. She is a match-up problem for every single team we play. She can cross, she can shoot, she can beat you off the dribble, she can defend."

Sych enters play Thursday with two goals and six assists.

"It's good that we play that way and Travis allows me to get in on the attack," Sych said. "I like that I'm not just limited to defense. I get back into the way I used to play the game."

And that way, of course, is to attack.

Though that personality has definitely helped both Sych and the Vikings this year, she hasn't always been able to go on the attack.

Most of the first three years of her stay in Bellingham was hampered by aches, pains and injuries.

"I've had all sorts of them," Sych said. "Coming into my freshman year, the summer before, I tore a hamstring in a regional game for my club team. I didn't recover from that completely, but I started playing here, and I had a lot of nagging injuries because of that."

As a sophomore, it was some ligament troubles in her foot that nagged her and caused other injuries.

She never missed big chunks of playing time, playing in 13 of 18 games in 2010, 17 of 18 games in 2011 and 20 of 23 games last season, but she never seemed to be at 100 percent, either. Her competitiveness kept driving her to play through the pain, making it tougher to heal.

But this year, she said she's been quite a bit healthier.

"This year, my body has felt great," Sych said. "I tore some ligaments in my knee close to the middle of the season - partially tore them, not completely - and that's why I missed those three games. But we were able to pinpoint what it was, isolate it, and I was able to get better. It's been great. Maybe it's because it's my senior year and I have all that adrenaline pumping through my veins and knowing there was no way I wasn't going to play."

Especially now that she's a member of WWU's first women's soccer team to advance this far.

But Connell said he wants his team focusing on its own game and not where they are or who they are playing.

"Every time there is a team that gets distracted by the enormity of the Final Four and by playing other teams that have been there before," Connell said. "They're not focusing on the details. We need to make sure we enjoy this experience, but when it's game time and time to train, we need to focus on the details we focused on to get us here. If we do that, we can play well, and if we play well, we can beat anybody."

Reach David Rasbach at david.rasbach@bellinghamherald.com or 360-715-2286.

NCAA DIVISION II NATIONAL SEMIFINALS

At Blanchard Woods Park, Evans, Ga.

? American International vs. Grand Valley State, 8 a.m.

? West Florida vs. WWU, 11 a.m.

Videocast of WWU's game: ncaa.com/championship/liveplayer/player?gameId=382418&date=2013/12/05

Reach DAVID RASBACH at david.rasbach@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2271.

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