RIVERSIDE — It doesn’t come with fries or a drink.
But the Cat and Nat Combo has become a hit on the soccer field for Carroll High School. Cat is senior defensive midfielder Catherine Berent, and Nat is junior goalkeeper Natalie Ryan.
Together, they are the stalwarts of the Carroll defense, which is a big reason the Patriots have not lost a game in October (one tie) and had only two losses all season heading into Tuesday’s Division-II sectional tournament game against Northwestern.
The two Beavercreek residents book-end the defense that includes a new starter and a first-year varsity player.
“In a tournament game, what’s the old saying, goals win games, defense wins championships,” Coach Sarah Flach said. “I don’t think we survive the schedule we play if we don’t have the experienced players right down the middle of the field. We always try to have it.”
Berent is a defender who was moved to defensive midfield this season to fill a need there. She plays more offense than previous seasons — scoring five times — but thrives when it comes to preventing goals.
“She’s the glue,” Flach said. “She doesn’t do anything flashy. She doesn’t have a lot of stats. She keeps calm. She never panics. She thrives there. Never once has she thought about how many goals or assists she has.”
Berent said she learned at a young age to be a team player.
“I don’t want to disappoint the team,” she said. “When I’m on the field … I just think I have to stop them from getting a goal. I just think they’re not getting a goal because of my mistake.”
But she doesn’t put unnecessary pressure on herself.
“I have trust in my back line,” Berent said. “I feel like they bonded. They kind of figured the puzzle out, how to have good defense.”
That’s also helped Ryan, a second year starter in goal, who has become brick wall in front of the goal.
“Just training, working with (goalkeeper coach) Phil Schneider with stuff we see through film,” Ryan said. “Talking with the defense about where things went wrong.”
Ryan has four shutouts, which is tied for second in rugged Greater Catholic League Co-Ed. Of the 18 goals allowed, 12 came in first eight games as the new defenders were learning the position.
“They’ve grown into it,” Ryan said of the defense. “A lot of communication.”
A turning point was a 1-0 shutout against Cincinnati power Indian Hill early this season.
“We all had to work together, it was only one goal,” Ryan said. “The last 20 minutes were pretty intense I think.”
But that’s how Ryan always plays, intense but not chaotic. And she’s the same every game.
“She’s been pretty consistent,” Flach said. “She’s really athletic. She just really has good instincts. She’s really good on one-on-one breakaways
Schneider called her a student of the game.
“She’s great to work with,” he said. “She responds to it right away. She’s never backed down to a single drill. When we work on something, she takes it to the field.”
And Berent, according to Flach, never backs down to an opposing player, stealing the ball 75 percent of the time.
That’s quite a combination on defense.
Contact Scott Halasz 937-502-4507.