On the defense
by Matthew Ondesko, Managing Editor Photos by St. Bonaventure Athletics You help your team to clean sheets, but nobody knows you. You shut down the opposing teams best player on the pitch night in and night out, but no one knows about. You are on the field for the goal in the 90th minute that led you team to lose 2-1, everyone knows about you. Welcome to the world of being a defender in soccer. It’s a world were if you do your job you fly under the radar. However, if you get burned buy the other team a couple of times during the game everyone knows about you. They call you a liability. While that isn’t true, being a defender is not the easiest job to do. You aren’t scoring the goals like Messi. You getting hat tricks like Ronaldo. You are just doing your job. A thankless job to some - not to your coaches - but to those who are watching. St. Bonaventure University women’s soccer player Maddie Mason is one of the top defenders in the Atlantic 10. If the Bonnies are playing, you can bet Mason is starting and not coming off the pitch until the game is over. Last season, the senior logged team-high1,641 minutes, and played stayed on the pitch for 14 of the 17 matches she started. She was the catalyst for the a defense that showed improvement last season. “Every time I step on the field, I go out unintimidated. Every player on the field is going out for one thing and that is to win the game,” stated Mason. “As a defender on the back line I have to be ready for anything. I have a mindset of never being afraid. I know when I am on the field, I will win every single ball out of the air and specifically tackles. With that it takes being driven to defend against the top players.” Mason is a grizzled veteran of the Bonnies back line. The senior center back has been starting games side her freshman year, where she started all 17. Being thrown right into the fire is nothing new for Mason. While playing for Webster-Thomas, in Rochester, she saw the field as a freshman there as well. Being able to see a lot of action has made Mason into the type of defender she is today. “Getting thrown into games right off the bat was something I have already experienced before. As a freshman in high school I was put in the same position. I was put into games and expected to play a big role for the team,” stated Mason. “At first, I was nervous like any other player in their first college game, but as time went on I grew confident and felt comfortable playing on the field as one of the youngest players.” Mason has risen from being one of the youngest on the team to a born leader. It may have something to do with the position on the field. Playing center back is like playing quarterback on the defense. Mason is in charge of everything on the back line. She needs to make sure she gets the rest of her teammates in the right position to defend as a unit, and not as individuals. It’s a role that Mason had to grow into, and one that she is extremely good at.
“As a leader on the back line, being vocal is a big part of my job. I keep scanning the field in order to make sure the girls are in the right positions. As repetition of me being vocal continues, most movements will be muscle memory and everybody will be in the right positions,” stated Mason. “From freshman year to now I feel more comfortable in the environment I am in. I feel like I connect with each player on my team. I try to connect with them in groups and on an individual basis. I feel like if I gain the respect for them, then they will do the same in return. My personality is who I am and I feel I have portrayed it well for the team. As a senior I want the girls on the team to have a bond we have never experienced before. I want us all to have the mentality off and on the field we have the potential to be a big competitor in the A10 conference. We need to tackle everything we do as a unit. The results will follow if we believe in each other.” Believing in what she is doing is something Mason has done since stepping on the campus at St. Bonaventure. She had the belief that she could compete with the some of the best competition in the country - and she has proven herself - and people - right. It’s a belief that has come from hard work over the summer during the 90 degree days. Summer break for Mason means getting after it in the weight room. There is no rest for the weary when it comes to playing, and competing, Division I soccer. Mason has to be ready to play a full 90 minutes every single game. She needs to be physically and mentally strong when the temps are hovering over 100 degrees on the field in those late August and early September games. “During the summer I do get right after it. I work with my personal trainers at PCX Sports Performance in my hometown to keep my weight lifting and conditioning program in order. They take the program from Bonaventure and mix it with their own philosophies. I also play in the summer to continue to play and keep my touches,” stated Mason. “Staying mentally sharp is hard for 90 minutes especially in the heat. One thing I do is listen to my teammates and know that we are all on the same page about information during the game. I am always scanning the field and being spatially aware. To make sure that I am communicating when I need to as well as I am in the right areas when need be.” St. Bonaventure, nested in Olean, NY. is a great college town. The throwback feel of Olean makes it a great place for students, and families, a like. The Catholic university is one of the smallest schools to play in the A10. It makes it harder at times to compete, but Mason and the soccer team doesn’t use that as an excuse. At one point, Mason was one of three Webster Thomas soccer players to come and play for the Bonnies. Where else can you get a top-notch education, while playing Division I soccer against some of the best players in the country? “Coming to St. Bonaventure seemed like the right fit for me. There are so many Rochester people who attend the school and it seemed almost like a “home away from home.” For my first three years I was one of three players on the soccer team that also played at Webster Thomas. Throughout the years our friendship turned into a sisterhood. They made the transition easy for me coming to Bonaventure,” stated Mason. “Conference play is very hard. It is the type of competition I love to go against. The teams we play are definitely top talent. We go out every game knowing we have everything to gain against those teams. Our team shows grit and hard work all over the field. At the end of the game we want the result we deserve.” And, Mason is one of the big reasons why. Mason loves nothing better than to shut down the opposing teams best player. Some like to score goals, Mason loves to shut them down. Being able to contribute to a clean sheet is nothing better for the senior from Rochester. Winning games 1-0 is like winning 5-0. If Mason, and her teammates, can limit the opportunities of the other team then they know they have a very good chance of winning. “Being a good defender comes with aspects of knowing offense and defense well. My main component is knowing your opponents weaknesses. I like to try and push them to use their weaknesses. It makes it easier for the defender to capitalize on their mistakes. That comes after knowing the basic procedures of knowing how to defend. For offense, it is important to be able to get the ball and start the attack for your team. Here it is essential to connect passes,” stated Mason. “Shutting down the best players is my favorite thing to do. Being able to deny the player the ball throughout the game gives me more confidence to be able to make sure they never get that opportunity to get to goal and possibly score a goal for the other team.”