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The secret to West Ranch girls soccer's success

Defensive unit has led the way

Posted: February 15, 2014 11:02 p.m.
Updated: February 15, 2014 11:02 p.m.

West Ranch defensive players (from left) Gianna Crimi, Dorna Ektefaie, Kimy Leggat, Jessy Holen and Marissa Magsarili (not pictured) have been keys to the Wildcats girls soccer team in 2014. The team is hoping to earn a spot in the CIF-Southern Section postseason.

 

The West Ranch girls soccer team knew it had a problem.

A big one.

It didn’t have a defense — and it needed to figure things out quickly.

So Wildcats head coach Jared White went into offseason workouts with one goal in mind: find a defense.

Enter juniors Marissa Magsarili, Dorna Ektefaie and Jessy Holen, junior Gianna Crimi and sophomore Kimy Leggat.
A group that featured little to no varsity soccer experience entering the season will conclude it as one of the top backlines West Ranch has ever fielded.

“Going into our first game, it was, ‘Let’s give this a shot,’” says White, who admitted he was worried about what to do defensively heading into the offseason. “And it worked for the first couple of games, and every game that went on in preseason they looked more comfortable and confident. It just worked. We didn’t give up a lot of goals in preseason. We were pretty confident we had found the right group.”

Ektefaie and Leggat worked the middle, while Magsarili and Holen used their speed on the outside of the flat-four defense.

And after the team lost Leggat to a concussion halfway through league, Crimi stepped in on the outside, Magsarili moved inside, and the team didn’t miss a beat.

“She’s a key player for our team,” says Magsarili. “She’s only a sophomore, so that’s amazing but we had to push through it. I took her place at center defender and we executed how we wanted to. We just had to re-adjust.”

Despite struggles on the offensive end, the Wildcats’ defense has allowed more than two goals just once this year, and came within minutes of upsetting Foothill League champion Hart when the teams tied 1-1 on Jan. 31.

The mindset starts with one simple phrase: “Way to wear it.”

“That’s when you pressure someone and you just have to use any part of your body to defend the ball just so you can shut down the offense from the other team,” Magsarili says.

So the group consistently spared nothing in its pursuit of one thing: keeping the multitude of offensive weapons spread throughout the Foothill League from getting the ball past West Ranch goalkeeper Set Motamedi.

“They definitely ease my nerves,” Motamedi says. “I know if I deflect the ball they’ll be there to clear it out. They hardly let anything past them. They make my job really easy. I really don’t have a lot to even deal with because they’re pretty good at what they do.”

And the key to keeping things away from Motamedi is all about the approach — an approach that demands they do whatever it takes to stop the ball.

“The biggest difference between this group and past ones is their willingness to sacrifice on shots,” White says.

“I’ve never seen a backline get hit in the stomach and face more than this group. But they love it.”

It’s a mentality exemplified most by Ektefaie, but has spread through the group of five and added a level of intensity that has been missing from previous Wildcat teams.

“She’s the most fearless one,” Holen says. “She is crazy, personality and everything, but I don’t know that our team would be the same without her. Whenever Dorna or anyone else are winning 50-50 balls or going up for headers or stepping in front of forwards, it motivates the entire team to work that much harder. It pumps everyone up and fires them up to want to win more than they already do.”

The team, which finished in fourth place in the Foothill League and will find out Monday if it earns an at-large bid into the CIF-Southern Section Division II postseason, has already tied for the most league points in school history and hopes to qualify for just the program’s second playoff trip.

“I’m smiling ear to ear,” Holen says. “It’s such an honor and crazy to think this team is going to be a part of West Ranch history. I’m playing with so many great people, it’s going to be an awesome memory to look back on.”

And because of its defensive strength, there’s reason for optimism heading into a potential postseason clash.

“If the offense does come around, which I’m super confident they will, then I think we’re unstoppable. Even on a bad day, we’re giving 100-percent effort working hard. If we give that much passion, and we’re able to execute, I think CIF better watch out.”

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