Olivia Fernandez and Courtney Supp aren’t like most center back pairings.
Pennridge’s two central defenders almost seem too nice for the role, though their coach was very hesitant to use that word to describe them. A center back usually cuts a profile of a strong, intimidating presence with a less-than-sunny disposition, a lot of bark to go with a strong bite.
Fernandez, a senior, and Supp, a junior, aren’t the typical angry center backs roaring at each other all match long. It’s a big reason why they’ve been so successful this year.
“I’ve tried moving other people around but those two are very consistent,” Rams coach Audrey Anderson said. “They know what the other one is doing, one will drop and the other will go forward, they just work very well together.”
As Pennridge prepares for its PIAA 4A quarterfinal matchup with District 3 champion Cumberland Valley, set for 7 p.m. Saturday night at Exeter Twp High School outside Reading, the entire defense will have to be ready.
Fernandez and Supp are the perfect foils for Pennridge’s senior outside backs, Rachel Velez and Dani Meenan, who both love to push up the flank and get involved in the attack. The center defenders have their moments on offense as well, either capable of getting into the box on a corner kick, or delivering a good hit off a free kick from medium to long range.
What’s interesting about this pair is the turn of events last year that kind of led to them joining together. Just before the season started last year, Fernandez suffered a major knee injury that kept her sidelined all fall. To fill in the space vacated on the back line by the All-SOL defender, Anderson plugged in then-sophomore Supp.
“I never really thought about it that way,” Fernandez said after the team defeated Stroudsburg 3-0 in Tuesday’s first round. “We brought her in and she just fit right in.”
“Rachel and Dani have always been in the back and it was good that I got the experience with those two while Liv was out,” Supp said. “Now we’re all able to know how each other want to play.”
Anderson was hesitant to use the word nice in describing the two because they really aren’t nice to opposing offenses. The Rams have allowed just 11 goals all season, having allowed two goals in a single match just twice all year. So when Anderson says nice, she means the way Fernandez and Supp interact with each other on the field.
As it stands though, they’ve taken after their coach quite a bit too. See, the center backs are perfectionists and to them, even a single shot allowed on goal is far too many. It’s an internal competition more for the two of them than the back line as a whole.
“It’s Aud,” Fernandez and Supp said in unison, identifying the source of their very high bar.
“We’d start off the season giving up three shots and she’d say that’s too many,” Fernandez continued. “It just got in our heads and it got to where two was too many and now one is too many.”
Tuesday, the Rams had an absurd 20-0 edge in shots on goal.
“We’re harder on ourselves than anything,” Supp said. “But we reached our goal. One is just too many for us.”
So what makes them work so well? They’re both quick and cover a lot of ground vertically and horizontally, so even if one of the outside backs is pushed up, there’s not a lot of open space.
“Courtney is very smart, she sees the field really well,” Anderson said. “Liv has no fear, at all. I’ve known that kid since she was little and she’ll just run through anything.
“Erin (Stevenson) is pushed forward because Liv is back and Courtney is there. Liv’s that player that doesn’t care where she’s playing, you put her on the field and she’ll do what she has to do.”
The biggest tool for defenders in soccer isn’t a booming kick to clear the ball, or a slide tackle or even a burst of speed to close on an attacker, it’s their voice. If backs don’t talk, they get beat and give up goals. That’s not a problem for Pennridge’s middle defenders.
They have a little different way of doing it, but it works.
“We pick each other up and we don’t forcefully yell at each other,” Supp said. “We’re not mean to each other. We have a really good system going.”
“We know how to direct and tell each other when someone is coming,” Fernandez added. “Center backs on other teams are more demanding. We demand, but not yelling at each other a mean way.”
Tuesday’s shutout was just what the backs needed after giving up two to in their loss to Neshaminy in the district title game. The center backs said the one thing they want to clean up before Saturday is clearing the ball out of the box off set pieces.
Cumberland Valley is going to present a much different challenge than Stroudsburg, but Pennridge’s center defenders are looking at it the same way they look at every match.
“We always say let’s try to be a wall back here and keep them from shooting,” Supp said.