We Love Ditch Diggers, Too
Welcome back to Inside the 18! Be prepared to get a little mud on your shirt today.
Just like kids grow up wanting to be a quarterback and toss the winning touchdown in the corner of the end zone, kids grow up wanting to score that twirling, bending ball in the upper corner of the net. “Good” players are often identified at the youth stages as the ones skillful enough to be good offensive players. As they get older, the deck gets re-shuffled and players get moved to more appropriate positions. Everyone would like to be the one scorching the back of the nets, but, in the immortal words of Caddyshack’s Judge Smails, “The world needs ditch diggers, too.”
Ok, that was a bit extreme. Being a defender isn’t bad at all; it’s just not usually all that glamorous. (Chicks dig the long ball, not shutouts.) Having said that, two of the most electric players on WVU’s women’s and men’s soccer teams are defenders Bry McCarthy and Raymon Gaddis.
After watching the Mountaineer women’s team play last year, McCarthy was one of the most exciting players in a typically strong recruiting class for coach Nikki Izzo-Brown. Playing on the left side as a forward, her numbers didn’t knock you over (three goals, one assist). But, as is often the case in soccer, the numbers didn’t come close to telling the story of her impact on a game. Whenever she got the ball she almost always seemed to make a crowd pleasing move that helped get the Mountaineers in the attack.
Over the spring and summer, though, McCarthy got a crack at the full Canadian national team as an outside back. It wasn’t like that move was a total shock for McCarthy, who had trained at that position with the team previously, and who had started to learn that position when she was 15 to help make her a more complete player.
I was still a bit surprised to see McCarthy at left back for the Mountaineers when the season began. (If anything, I thought she would move up the field as a pure forward.) Far be it from me to even think about second-guessing Izzo-Brown, whose young children could run circles around me soccer-wise, and, as usual, the move appears to be the right one for several reasons.
As an outside back, McCarthy can still make those long, impressive runs and join the attack. She can be that extra player that perhaps the opposing team loses track of because of her position, rather than being a focal point out of the midfield or as a forward. The bottom line is that just because she’s a defender doesn’t mean she can’t impact the game like she did before. In fact, her impact has expanded, not contracted. And, as it turns out, she’s a solid defender. That’s not completely out of the blue -- when they were recruiting her, the WVU coaching staff saw her play all over the field and could see her at many different positions, including defender. I mean, if she can play for the full Canadian national team as a defender, she can certainly do it at West Virginia.
Give credit to Izzo-Brown for the position change, too. If McCarthy’s best opportunity to play on the national team is at left back, then she should probably be getting work there at the college level, even if it wasn’t exactly the way the WVU coaching staff envisioned using her when she was recruited or if it meant moving some other players around.
For example, several years ago a college team had two talented attacking midfielders. The coach, though, moved one to a defensive midfielder spot even though the position was completely new to him and he had very good attacking skills. The coach moved him not only because he had another player in the attacking role, but also because he thought the best position for that player to get to the pros and the national team was at holding midfielder, even if it meant not getting the most offensively out of a gifted player. That player went on to be the top pick in the MLS draft, play in Europe for one of the top teams in the Scottish Premier League, and over the summer made starts for the United States at the World Cup. His name is Maurice Edu. Not to be all Paul Harvey on you, but now you know the rest of the story.)
In the end, though, moving McCarthy has been a win-win situation for the player and the team, and that’s always a good thing.
Ray Gaddis, who has long been known as a defender, is similar to McCarthy when you talk about impacting a game. Consider the fact that Gaddis basically had no stats in his first two years in Morgantown – no goals, no assists, a couple of shots here and there – but still made the M.A.C. Hermann Trophy watch list prior to this season. That’s because other coaches know of his impact on the game. You don’t need the Hermann Trophy watch list to validate your opinion, though, because when you go watch the Mountaineers play you remember No. 13 and recognize that he makes a difference.
But look, I’ve spent all this time talking about defenders and their offensive skills. Shame on me. Let’s give credit to the work that McCarthy, Gaddis, and their back line mates have done recently. The Mountaineer women’s team has surrendered just three goals in the last seven games with five shutouts. Goalkeeper Kerri Butler will soon be the school’s all-time leader in career shutouts and is second at WVU for career wins with 39. Meanwhile, the WVU men have surrendered just three scores in the last six games during a 4-1-1 stretch. Senior keeper Zach Johnson needs just four more shutouts to surpass Nick Noble as the school’s all-time leader in that category.
The glamour is always on that sweet game-winner, but we know that there’s plenty of glamour in a hard tackle to prevent a player from even having a chance at taking that shot. Yes, we love our ditch diggers, too.