Brina Sych became more defensive when she arrived in college.
A midfielder in high school and club soccer, Sych was converted to a defender at Western Washington University.
Three years after being named Class 3A Greater St. Helens League Offensive Player of the Year as a Union High School senior, Sych made the transition so completely that last season she was named Great Northwest Athletic Conference Defender of the Year and Second Team All-America by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America as a junior.
“I never played defense before, so I think the tactical part of playing defense is the part that I had to learn when I got here — understanding when to make those decisions to go forward and when to make the decisions to stay back,” the WWU senior said. “I think that’s the most important thing about the position.”
It certainly helps that under coach Travis Connell, the Vikings’ philosophy for outside backs like Sych is that they play something like defensive-minded midfielders, playing in the back but also shifting periodically into attacking roles as the game develops.
“I think that kind of changes the dynamic of the game and changes how people have to defend us,” Sych said. “That definitely makes it more difficult for people to defend us.”
People are having a lot of trouble defending the Vikings this season.
Then again, people are having a lot of trouble generating offense against the Vikings, too.
at 11-0-0, WWU is off to the program’s best start since 1984 and is No. 2 in the NSCAA/NCAA Division II rankings behind Grand Valley State of Michigan.
The Vikings have outscored their opponents by an aggregate score of 31-3 while giving up no more than a single goal in any game — with one of the goals allowed an own goal.
The Vikings have not trailed in any game this season.
Sych — who was named GNAC Defensive Player of the Week for the period of Sept. 29 to Oct. 5, scoring a goal in a win over rival Seattle Pacific in addition to her defensive play — said that communication on the back line is key to WWU’s success.
Playing a “flat back four” in a 4-3-3 alignment, the Vikings back line quartet of Sych, senior Kayla Russ and juniors Katherine Miccile and Brianna Jones is together for a second consecutive year.
“We have really good center backs who communicate — not only with me and the other outside back, but the center (midfielders) for the center mids to drop back and take the position that I was filling when I go forward. That is a huge reason why we can do it.
“There’s communication to have someone cover for you and be in that spot where otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to do that because there would be a hole left in the defense.”
The defense takes pride in working with goalkeeper Alyssa Beauchamp, a Mountain View High School graduate taking over in front of the net as a senior, on producing clean sheets — eight shutouts and nine times not allowing the opposition to score.
On those rare occasions when they do, Sych said, the Vikings have to confidence to not be rattled.
“I think one thing we’re actually pretty good at is not letting it get to us,” she said. “We have been scored on a couple of times, but we’ve come back from that.
“There’s been a couple of times when we’ve been tied, and we’ve been able to pull out the win. We know that our forwards can score, so it’s not something you can dwell on. You just have to move forward and not let them get another goal.”
WWU was 19-4-0 last year, winning the GNAC regular season championship with a 12-2 conference mark, setting a program record for wins in a season and reaching the Far West Region final of the NCAA Division II national tournament.
With nine starters and 16 letter winners returning from that team and an unbeaten start to this season, naturally hopes are high.
“As a defense, we want to keep up the shutouts and not let them score, or as little as possible,” Sych said. “I also think that last year we proved that we can make it farther than the GNAC tournament and get to regionals. I think that this year, our goal is to make it to the national games and be able to compete. We know we have the ability, and now it’s just proving ourselves.”
Sych has also proven herself in the classroom, garnering GNAC academic all-star recognition each of the last two seasons. She plans to graduate in the spring with a degree in kinesiology and a Spanish minor, and attend graduate school.