There’s no more thankless position in sports than playing on the backline.
If you play well for the majority of the game but let up for one second and allow the game-winning goal, you’re the goat. It’s a rarity that the average soccer fan will even notice a defender in the course of a game.
That didn’t bother Medina’s Holly Rhodes. She didn’t care about the press clippings or the talk on online forums. Her job was a mission — don’t allow the other team’s attacker be the hero.
Easier said than done, but the senior made it look simple in helping the Bees to their second straight regional for the first time over a decade.
It was enough to earn Rhodes Gazette MVP.
“It’s definitely a lot of pressure,” she said. “It’s a thankless job sometimes, but I knew I had my whole backline behind me. You just have to trust your team and trust yourself.”
Game in and game out, the 5-foot-7 senior was asked to lock down the opposition’s best forward or attacking center midfielder.
From Ohio State recruit Sammy Edwards of Dublin Coffman to another first-team All-Ohio selection in Copley’s Anna Haverchak, Rhodes was able to rattle them so much that coaches were sent to the dry-erase board to figure out what to do next.
“She would not just keep them from scoring, but she would take them completely out of the game and frustrate them,” Medina coach Doug Coreno said. “Against Coffman, they relied so much on Edwards that they had to be creative and put her in the center midfield. That was because of Holly.
“It’s such a tough job and you never get the recognition, but every championship team has a great defender, and she was ours.”
As recently as two years ago, the 17-year-old would’ve never imagined being one of the top backs in the state.
Rhodes came into the Medina program as a midfielder. It wasn’t until the start of her sophomore year that Coreno had an opening on defense and decided to give her a try.
“She’s such a mature player,” he said. “We had a hole back there, and I told her that this is how she could make the team. At first she was unsure, but then started picking things up. She never once came up and said, ‘I don’t want to do this.’
What a difference almost two years makes.
“It’s kind of crazy to think about it,” Rhodes said. “I knew it was my way to play varsity and I ended up liking it.”
That was good news for the Bees, as they allowed just 13 goals against one of the toughest schedules in the area. They also had 11 shutouts, including three in the postseason en route to capturing their second straight district crown for the first time since 1997-98.
“Holly is just a warrior,” Coreno said. “She plays so hard 80 minutes a game. It’s so fun to watch her battle. She’s good in the air and 1v1, and she routinely stopped the best player on the best teams in the state.”
It didn’t matter if it was a regular season game or with a championship on the line. Rhodes was there. She didn’t care about the name of who she was guarding or what flashy numbers they brought into the game.
Her only care was that the numbers were the same after the game as well.
“I would look to see if she was right-footed or left-footed, do a little research,” Rhodes said. “Before the game, I would get a little nervous, but once I stepped on the field they were just another forward.
“Obviously my goal was to not let her score, but I didn’t want to let them shoot. I just tried to say on them the whole time and limit their touches. Every 50-50 ball was mine and I wanted to play as hard as possible.”
Contact Dan Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.