QUINCY -- Mark Longo turned to his assistant coaches and admitted to being envious of the skills of one of his players.
Maddie Dickerman, a sophomore sweeper on the Quincy Notre Dame girls soccer team, had recovered to stop an offensive rush and calmly cleared a ball out of danger.
"I turned to George (McDonell) and Jason (Keller) and said. ‘I would have been a heck of an athlete if I was a quick and fast as Maddie,'" said Longo, the Raiders' veteran head coach. "She's special."
Because of the stinginess of the QND defense, her play is widely unnoticed.
Yet, as the Raiders embark on their quest to repeat as Class 1A state champions, Dickerman's presence defensively can't be overstated. She has anchored a group that has allowed just 10 goals all season and tied a school record with 20 shutouts.
That's occurred despite switching goalies four games into the season because of an injury and adjusting to injuries in the midfield.
"Our defenders have done a tremendous job of sticking together, backing each other up and taking care of cleaning up plays," Longo said. "They make life easy for our goalies."
The Raiders (21-3-2) hope that continues this week as they play host to the Class 1A sectional at Advance Physical Therapy Field. QND will face Rock Island Alleman (8-8-0) at 4 p.m. Tuesday, while Bloomington Central Catholic and Pleasant Plains meet in the other semifinal at 6 p.m.
The sectional championship will be played at 6 p.m. Friday.
"I think we're confident," Longo said. "We've played really well defensively."
The historically high level of the defense has caught most people by surprise.
"It caught me by surprise, too," Longo said after he calculated the number of shutouts.
The more he replayed the season, he realized the numbers don't lie. The defense has been dynamic, especially Dickerman.
"She just saves us back there," Longo said. "She's fast. She's quick. She's smart. She's turned into a heck of a sweeper."
It's the recovery speed that sets her apart.
Longo pointed to a game against Belleville Althoff where Dickerman set herself apart. The Crusaders won a loose ball about 40 yards from the goal and started a breakaway from outside the hash marks. Dickerman was forced to turn and run the Crusaders' attacker down from behind.
She caught her within 10 yards.
"Last year, she speed was good, but her ball skills were a little shaky," Longo said. "She's the complete package now."
When you mix Dickerman with senior marking back Molly Penn, junior marking back Madison K. Meyer and freshman back Emmy Kirn, it becomes a wall junior goalkeeper Madison L. Meyer can have complete faith in.
"Their trust is high," Longo said. "They've been really good back there."