Mount Hebron's Nicolaus is lonely last line of defense

On High Schools

May 21, 2006|By MILTON KENT

Karen Nicolaus could probably give as accurate a report on the condition of the Mount Hebron stadium's playing field as the school's groundskeeper. She also probably knows precisely how high the padding comes up on the football goal post, as well as the width of the painted white lines in front of the cage.

Nicolaus is the goaltender for the top-ranked Vikings girls lacrosse team, and as such, well, let's just say she's not often under stress, or at least stress beyond that of keeping a 96-game winning streak alive.

When you play behind an offense that piles on goals the way Mount Hebron does, namely 362 in 17 games, including an 18-3 victory over Towson in Friday's Class 3A-2A state semifinal match, it's not always necessary to be eternally vigilant.

"It's hard to focus throughout the game when it's down there, but I just try to do my best," Nicolaus said after the Vikings' 18-7 regional win over Centennial last week. "You never know when they're going to bring it down. So, I try to keep focused on the game, but sometimes I wander off."

"I know it's really hard for a goalie trying to make saves when you just get a random shot every once in a while," Mount Hebron junior defender Jackie Doherty said. "You're not warmed up. You warm up before the game and then after 20 minutes, you finally get a shot. It's hard to have that reaction and be ready for it. But in the big games, she shines because those shots keep coming and she just comes up big. She makes awesome saves."

While the Mount Hebron offense, led by senior midfielder Megan Bosica, the reigning All-Metro Player of the Year, is making scoreboards light up like a video screen and getting all the attention, the defense has been largely going unnoticed, except within team circles.

In fact, Mount Hebron coach Brooke Kuhl-McClelland says it's the offense that doesn't get a lot of notice because it's so efficient.

"It's kind of like the pretty girl that never gets asked to the dance, because they all think she's been asked," Kuhl-McClelland said. "We never talk about our offense because they are so prolific. Nobody ever talks about we've got goal scorers with matching scores. Meggie [Bosica] has the most, but then tallying down, we've got three or four other goal scorers with 30 goals on the season.

"These girls can run 11 major league different sets. It's awesome. It's beautiful to watch. We don't give them enough credit, but the other reason is every time the other team goes on attack, our defense comes up with the ball somehow."

To date, the Vikings have allowed only 45 goals all season, a figure the offense had covered in the first two games of the year. No opponent has scored more than eight goals in any contest, and for a second straight year, they've allowed fewer than three goals a game.

"It's always nice to come out in the offense and get the first couple of goals and get things started, but I think what really pumps us up at the beginning of the game is when the defense makes a big steal or something," Bosica said. "That's what pumps us up and brings us downfield. We know that we can trust them. Every defender that we have out there, I feel like we can trust them."

Believing in each other is the key to the Mount Hebron defense. Kuhl-McClelland said this year's defense, though smaller than many offenses it faces, is the speediest she has had. That speed and its ability to recover allows it to gamble more, and usually the gamble pays off.

"They're risk-takers. If [the coaching staff] calls a slide, and it's from the opposite side of the field, they're going as fast and as furious as they can to get there. They're not tentative at all, and they are relentless," Kuhl-McClelland said.

And if the gambling doesn't work, there's always Nicolaus as the last line. The 5-foot-2 senior has been exceptional throughout the season and brilliant when she has had to be.

In particular, Nicolaus was on the mark in Mount Hebron's biggest wins of the year, a 14-8 Easter win over then-No. 2 St. Mary's and a 10-8 road victory over Moorestown, N.J., two weeks ago.

In the Moorestown win, the Mount Hebron defense held the opponent, ranked second in the nation by, to three goals in the first half, and Nicolaus made six saves to help preserve the win.

"They got a lot of shots off, compared to our county games, so she was ready," Doherty said. "She was warmed up and she made some amazing saves."

There is one benefit to standing around behind the most potent offense in girls high school lacrosse for Nicolaus, who will join her older sister Cindy at Loyola in the fall: At least she doesn't have to face it during a game.

If she did, Nicolaus' attention span would be razor sharp.

"I would just do my best and make sure I was concentrating and watching the ball and play my hardest," Nicolaus said. "They're all great players and I'm sure any one of them at any time could take it and score. It's good that I get to practice against them every day. It makes me that much better."

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