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Defense has become trademark of 2005 Blue Raider success

November 2, 2005 · MT Media Relations
MOBILE, Ala. - As Middle Tennessee battled Troy through a gut-wrenching quarterfinal game during the Sun Belt Conference Championships Wednesday it would have been easy for anxiety to set in on the field and sidelines.

After all, the upset-minded Trojans were pushing the second-seeded Blue Raiders to the limit in a game that required two overtimes for Middle Tennessee to secure a 1-0 win and advance into the semifinals for the third straight year.

Panic wasn't necessary because Middle Tennessee was splendidly doing what it has done so well throughout the 2005 season - defending.

"We have become a good defensive team throughout this season and we had to be against Troy because they put forth an outstanding effort today," said senior keeper Danielle Perreault, who has been in goal for all seven of Middle Tennessee's shutouts this season. "We are getting solid midfield play and the defenders are great. I just try to do my job when the other team gets through and has scoring chances."

Perreault was solid once again Wednesday, collecting saves on five of Troy's 10 shots, including a sterling stop on a breakaway in the first half and turning in a game-saving play when she laid out for a save in the 73rd minute of a scoreless tie.

"Danielle had a solid game with some clutch stops but that's the type of keeper Danielle is, you can always count on her and she has been solid for us all year," Middle Tennessee head coach Aston Rhoden said. "It is good to see her, as a senior, step up and help us advance to the next round."

It's somewhat fitting that defense paved the way as Middle Tennessee advanced Wednesday because it has become the staple of the Blue Raider program since Rhoden's arrival in 2002. The defense registered its seventh shutout of the season against Troy, which is second on the single-season list behind the nine blankings the Blue Raiders administered in 2003.

Middle Tennessee has allowed just 22 goals through 19 games, currently tied for the fewest surrendered in a single season; and the Blue Raiders allowed just 10 shots against Troy. More impressive is the fact the unit hunkered down and allowed no shots in the two overtimes.

Clearly, defense has become this team's identity and it delivered again in the clutch Wednesday.

"I don't think we necessarily go into games expecting shutouts but it is our goal," said junior defender Katy Rayburn, an All-Sun Belt selection in 2005. "We have come to expect that from each other and the results usually support that. When it comes down to it we focus on getting our jobs done."

Getting the job done was again a collective effort against Troy as Rayburn, Sara Wohlhueter, Katie Daley and Nenita Burgess manned the back line, while solid midfield play turned in by Claire Ward, Kaley Forrest and Caitlin Reeves again was paramount; however, the unsung hero had to be freshman Jordan LeFan.

A midfielder by trade, LeFan was forced to play defender against Troy when she came on with the game on the line in the second half after Daley left the field due to injury and did not return. LeFan was solid in denying penetration of the back line and turned in one of her best all-around performances of the season.

It's been that type of season for Middle Tennessee. When one player has gone down, another has emerged to pick up the slack and, as a result, the Blue Raiders have tied the single-season record for wins (13) and put themselves in position to reach a conference tournament championship game for the first time in program history.

They have done this against one of the toughest schedules in school history and with 10 new players making up 50 percent of the team roster.

Middle Tennessee will face host South Alabama in semifinal action Thursday at 7 p.m.

The Sun Belt Championships are available live on the Sun Belt website, www.sunbeltsports.org. The championships may be viewed live via web streaming at a cost of $9.95.

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