EAST WHITELAND >> The braces sported by The Christian Academy backline tell the story before Grace Cryan can.
Injuries have been a constant bugaboo for the Crusaders, players missing time or toughing it out at less than 100 percent.
The daily alterations for coach Katie Dennstaedt occur on an even more micro-scale. That’s why, as the Crusaders head into Wednesday’s District One Class A final with Christopher Dock (Souderton High School, 5 p.m.), Cryan remains an important variable, but for more than the suspected reasons.
Cryan has long been a scoring force for the second-seeded Crusaders (13-3-1). She led the team with 22 goals last season and tallied 24 in 2013, forming a devastating attacking axis with classmate Carli Sitkowski.
This season, her numbers remain gaudy at 18 goals and six assists despite a stiffer PIAA schedule. More remarkable is the multitude of minutes she’s logged in central defense.
“If they need me to play defensively — and we had a couple of defensive girls get injured this year — I’ve played defense my whole life, actually until high school when I started playing midfield,” the senior said Monday after TCA notched a 2-1 semifinal win over New Hope-Solebury.
It’s always a numbers game, particularly in Class A where rosters are thin (TCA dresses 14 varsity players) and the concentration of skills can be dilute. Just one injury and the entire team is tested, circling the wagons to minimize liability and strengthen the core, often from the center outward.
That’s the logic with Cryan as a defender, but it comes with a twist. Cryan’s attacking skills are less necessary thanks to Sitkowsi’s scoring brilliance — her two tallies Monday make 18 for the year — and the contributions of sophomore Lindsay Haseltine (13 goals, six assists) and standout freshman Grace Gormley (18 goals before being slowed by a leg injury).
There’s the wrinkle. With Gormley limited physically, but still adept at reading the game, Dennstaedt trusts her players to switch mid-game, Gormley dropping to sweeper while Cryan surges forward to exploit her attacking chemistry with Haseltine and Sitkowski.
Gormley started in an advanced position Monday and took throw-ins that led to both goals, then swapped with Cryan in defense. Nursing a one-goal lead late, both players anchored the back four, extinguishing fires.
That versatility is daunting for opponents to cope with and a potent weapon for TCA.
“I think it definitely an advantage,” Cryan said. “(Gormley) is more of a speed player, and me and Carli play club together. So we’re more of a give-and-go, rely on touches more. So I think it’s a different approach.”