Sheets goes on the defensive

Field hockey: Despite a high-scoring pedigree, Garrison Forest's Lauren Sheets excels as one of the area's top defenders.

High Schools

October 02, 2003|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

Garrison Forest's Lauren Sheets has no idea why she plays so well on the defensive end of the hockey field. Her athletic genes come from parents who lit up the scoreboard during their playing days.

Former Oriole Larry Sheets was a designated hitter and his wife, the former Sharon Lusby, played forward on field hockey teams at perennial powers Pocomoke High on the Eastern Shore and Division III Eastern Mennonite University.

"We still haven't figured out where she came from," said Larry Sheets, with a laugh. "Her mother and I were more offensively oriented and wouldn't spend as much time on defense as Lauren does."

Fortunately for Garrison Forest's No. 11-ranked field hockey team, Sheets' inherent defensive tendencies emerged during middle school, and she grew into an All-Metro defender last season as a junior.

Her skill and leadership have been key for the Grizzlies (5-4-1), who have posted five shutouts in an up-and-down season that is now headed in the right direction after Tuesday's 1-0 upset of No. 1 Fallston and Monday's 3-0 win at No. 7 Towson.

"Defense just came more naturally, keeping the ball out of the goal instead of putting it in," said Sheets, 17. "It's such a challenge to stay mentally in the game. I feel that an attack player has moments when she can let her mind rest, but on defense if you take a mental break, they're going to score on you."

Playing center midfield at Garrison through middle school and into her freshman year allowed Sheets wide range to flourish defensively as well as showcase her ability to turn a game in transition while still getting in on the attack.

Once Garrison varsity coach Traci Davis switched to a 3-3-3-1 formation - three forwards, three midfielders, three backs and a sweeper - she wanted Sheets to take a more defensive role at center halfback.

"The way we use her, she's a defensive player, but she kicks us into our offense," said Davis. "She's a proactive defensive player, which is why she's a standout. She makes things happen on the field."

Opposing coaches know Sheets can turn a play and light a fire under her young teammates.

"She has a great field sense. She really sees the open players," said St. Paul's coach Annie Morse, whose team fell, 3-0, to the Grizzlies on Sept. 8. "And she's aggressive, not in a negative way, but she really goes for the ball and can dodge around people and redirect it and carry it up the field."

Although Sheets excels at center back, she did not initially relish the move.

"I really liked the [center] midfield position, because I got to play offense and defense. When we went to the new system and Traci put me [on defense], I didn't want to play that far back. But the way we play, it's like a midfield position."

That challenge has become a passion for Sheets, who constantly strives to improve her game. Looking for a spot in a Top 25 Division I college program, the Lutherville resident is a veteran of the United States Field Hockey Association's Olympic-development style Futures program as well as a gold-medal Junior Olympian.

By going to camps and clinics every summer and playing club ball, Sheets has developed a keen understanding of the game. Listening to her talk about defensive strategy sounds more like listening to a coach than listening to a high school senior.

"She is a student of the game," said Davis. "It's her total passion for the game, her devotion to the game."

That passion grew out of a few family clinics - just herself, her mom and a couple of field hockey sticks in the back yard.

Although she played tennis since she was 4 1/2 years old, Sheets enjoyed team sports more, a preference her mother said likely resulted from being an only child until brother Gavin arrived seven years ago.

Sheets made her first foray into team sports after her father retired from baseball. Larry Sheets, who now owns an amusement center in Westminster with a multipurpose field for baseball among other sports, introduced his daughter to softball and coached her first team.

Until then, Lauren Sheets had spent summers traveling with her parents while her father played for the Orioles, the Detroit Tigers and the Seattle Mariners. The family also spent a year with him in Japan when she was 6.

"When he retired, he wanted to be a lot more involved, to make up for lost time sort of," said Sheets. "He said softball was something fun we could do together. He never forced me. He did kind of get frustrated going from Major League Baseball to softball with 8-year-olds. I don't think we won a game, but it was definitely a great experience."

Her parents have been fixtures at Garrison games since she started playing field hockey with her sixth-grade friends, as much a social choice as an athletic one. After that season, she tried out for the Futures program and made it.

"I played Futures from seventh grade all the way up and that hooked me along with playing at Garrison with my friends," said Sheets, who is also a lacrosse defender for the Grizzlies.

After playing in an international tournament in England during the summer before her freshman year, she decided she wanted to play field hockey in college. Now, Sheets, who carries about a 3.7 grade point average, is looking at several Division I programs, including Duke, Georgetown and Princeton.

A potential biology major, Sheets is looking for a college program that mirrors her experience at Garrison Forest.

"What we have at Garrison is so special," said Sheets. "We have always had such a close team feeling and our coach helps us on and off the field. I'm trying to find a team comparable to that as well as a strong academic school, because I won't play field hockey forever."

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