The best defense is a good offense, or so the old cliché goes.
While a good offense does indeed help a team succeed, the Columbus High soccer team may respectfully disagree.
For the Lady Blue Devils, everything starts on defense. That approach has helped them notch five consecutive shutouts during the most trying period of the season, placing them firmly on the precipice of a state title.
Columbus, which will play Marist for the Class AAAA title on Friday at West Georgia, has a group of four defenders, who, as a unit, are as good as any in the state, according to coach Rusty Oliver.
“They play so well as a unit,” Oliver said on Wednesday, a day after his team defeated Veterans in the state semifinals. “They are so skilled. Some teams put players in the back because they can’t play anywhere else, but our defenders could play anywhere on the field.”
As a unit, the group has helped produce 14 shutouts in 21 games this season
The defenders are sisters Ivey and Lane Burbrink, Hanna Lester and Mallory Lotz. Two of the four, Lane Burbrink and Lester are sophomores, Lotz is a junior and Ivey is a senior.
It’s an effective mix in age, personalities and strengths.
Ivey is the fastest of the four and can cover a wide area defensively. Lotz is best at footwork, helping to tackle the ball and create an attack going the other way. Lane Burbrink and Lester are most aggressive, doing their best to keep the opposition off the ball.
“It’s good to have different people in their different niches,” Ivey Burbrink said. “We know what each person is best at, and that helps us play better as a unit.”
Her sister described the same effect a little further.
“It’s all about trust,” Lane said. “You can’t play defense unless you trust the people on your team. Obviously I trusted my sister when I started playing, but I learned I could trust everyone else quickly, too.”
Part of that trust comes from how the players deal with each other on the field. As many coaches have said, Oliver included, the in-game coaching comes form the field, not the sidelines.
When a player makes a mistake, others are there to pick them up.
Lotz and Lester both stressed the importance of their on-field relationship in maintaining calm and composure when something goes wrong.
“Making a mistake isn’t a big deal,” Lotz said. “Nobody gets angry with the other one. We just point out the mistake, shake it off and move on. It helps take the pressure off.”
“We just communicate well,” Lester said. “We’re good at staying calm. We understand each other, know how the other works. I think it’s really important to know that someone else is there to cover you when you make a mistake.”
The resulting success on defense and for the entire team has been irrefutable.
In two seasons with the team, Lane and Lester have advanced to the state final in both. Despite some outside opinions to the contrary, the players said it obviously wasn’t luck.
“When you make it in back-to-back years, it isn’t a fluke,” Lane said.
Now, though, they want to take the next step. For Ivey Burbrink, it is her last chance at a state title.
“I really want to finish it off,” she said. “It’s nice to be there again, but we obviously want to take it home. It’s my last chance.”
Her sister said that was on her mind, as well.
“I want it for her, too,” Lane said. “It’s been special, but I want to make it even more unforgettable. I want to bring home the cup for her and for the whole team.”
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.