Sweeping success

John Carroll senior has developed into a top defender after rough transition

Girls soccer

October 22, 2006|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,special to the sun

When John Carroll's girls soccer team needed a sweeper three years ago, Patriots coach Gary Lynch thought incoming freshman Jessica Hnatiuk would be a perfect fit.

The only problem was that Hnatiuk had been trained as a midfielder. And when the freshman struggled as a sweeper in the preseason, Lynch moved her back to midfield.

Lynch wouldn't let it go, however, telling Hnatiuk that they would try again the next year. Hnatiuk had problems again at the start, needing time to adjust to the position, along with the pressure from seniors who wanted a perfect season and a championship.

Eventually, however, Lynch's patience and Hnatiuk's persistence paid off. She helped the Patriots go 21-0 and win the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference title that year, and she has developed into one of the area's top sweepers.

She led the Patriots to a second straight title last year and to a 12-2-1 start this season.

Hnatiuk (pronounced "nat-ek") played at wing midfield throughout her club soccer career, but Lynch said he thought she had the size, speed and ability to be a sweeper. However, he knew shifting her would be a daunting task for a freshman, and the preseason problems convinced him to delay the move a year.

"She just wasn't ready yet," Lynch said. "That is a heck of a responsibility to dump on a freshman."

Hnatiuk moved back to midfield that year but spent the season working on her sweeper skills. After the Patriots lost in that season's conference championship game, a large group of seniors was determined the following year to go unbeaten.

As Hnatiuk tried to learn a new position, she was under scrutiny from the seniors.

"I had to take a lot," Hnatiuk said. "They wanted me to do well, but at the same time, they wanted to win. Everything I did I got yelled at for."

Hnatiuk said the turning point came after an early season team meeting when the seniors told the younger players that they were improving and doing better. There had been some confrontations, and Lynch knew of the problems, and Hnatiuk said the meeting helped her settle down.

"It changed how I played because now I knew that they believed in me," Hnatiuk said. "I knew that I could go out and play better, and that I had their support behind me. It helped me relax a little."

Hnatiuk's troubles that year helped her grow, said Kelly Tinnell, who was an assistant coach that season.

"She was young and we had to build her confidence and teach her a new position," Tinnell said. "I think she did as good of a job as she could with it. But she's just come so far. I don't know where [John Carroll] would be without her because she's come so far."

Hnatiuk said she felt more confident the following season. She was moved to defense on her club team, the Baltimore Bays, which gave her even more experience in the back. As a junior at John Carroll, Hnatiuk became more of a leader and took control on defense.

Hnatiuk told people whom to mark, where to go and what their options were on the field. Lynch said she routinely takes younger players under her wing, teaching them on and off the field.

She's taken her game to a higher level this season, even scoring three goals with four assists and logging a team-high 1,165 minutes.

Lynch said that Hnatiuk developed into exactly what he expected. She's evolved into a dynamic player in the back and helps anchor a defense that's again been solid. Lynch jokingly calls her "the Incredible Hulk" because Hnatiuk is such a dominant presence.

"I think she seems to have command in the back for them," said C. Milton Wright coach Paul Austin, whose team dropped a 2-0 decision to the Patriots nine days ago. "I get the feel that their defense leans on her."

Hnatiuk is looking at several colleges for next year and wants to become a doctor.

"It's been a long road, but she worked hard and deserves it," Lynch said.

Hnatiuk said she never really thought of asking Lynch to move her back to midfield. She viewed it as a challenge, and the more her teammates yelled, the more motivated she became.

"I wish they could see [me now]," Hnatiuk said. "I've really improved a lot. I think they'd be happy with how much I've improved."

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