Strahota gets last-second call to defense

Tamara Strahota switched to defense in a day after senior captain Jennie Clark broke her collarbone.

Austin Cumblad

Quick. Your center back âÄî a senior, a captain, a two-time First Team All-Big Ten honoree âÄî just broke her collarbone, and will be out six weeks. ItâÄôs Tuesday, and you have one day of practice before your next game. Who replaces her? If youâÄôre the Minnesota womenâÄôs soccer team âÄî a forward. Tamara Strahota, a junior who hadnâÄôt played defense in her time at Minnesota, sat in the airport waiting to head home from a game against Belmont, where the Gophers won 7-0 but lost Jennie Clark, a three-year starter in central defense . Strahota joked with senior defensive midfielder Kylie Kallman , âÄúâÄôOh Kylie, IâÄôll play center back.âÄôâÄù On the plane ride home, head coach Mikki Denney Wright told Strahota thatâÄôs exactly what she would be doing. Which left her with a day to learn MinnesotaâÄôs defense. So StrahotaâÄôs first practice as a center back wasnâÄôt so much practice as it was a crash course. Then it was Friday âÄî game time. UC-Santa Barbara came at her hard. The GauchosâÄô strategy appeared to be, âÄúLetâÄôs see if we can beat Strahota.âÄù They sent speedy forward Alissa Sanchez on run after run, but Strahota was up to the task. Sanchez slipped behind the defense only once, and sophomore goalkeeper Cat Parkhill was there to bail out her newly- appointed center back. One-on-one, Strahota got the best of of attackers all weekend, which is just what Denney Wright expected. âÄúWe knew she had all the qualities,âÄù she said of the decision to start Strahota. Center backs, along with goalkeepers, operate a little like air traffic controllers. They have the best view of the field, so they are expected to guide their team around the pitch. âÄúYou learn [center back], then it kind of turns into learning all the positions and knowing where to place everybody,âÄù Clark said, âÄúbecause youâÄôre the eyes of the field.âÄù ItâÄôs a difficult adjustment, Clark said, a fact that Strahota is learning quickly. When a center back is out of position, itâÄôs obvious. She said there were times when she didnâÄôt know where exactly to go, and that she has to keep reminding herself to direct traffic in MinnesotaâÄôs half. In StrahotaâÄôs case, it was only obvious a couple times. But even when she was out of position, she recovered quickly, a skill critical to surviving in MinnesotaâÄôs three-back system, which requires defenders to cover a lot of ground. Parkhill, who had perhaps the best view of StrahotaâÄôs performance, said she thought Strahota âÄúadjusted very well, I was very impressedâĦI think she embraced the role like she needed to to help our team.âÄù