Hart’s Jessica Deegan (4) makes a run up the sideline in a game against San Marcos at Hart earlier this season. Haley Sawyer/The Signal

Hart girls soccer features dynamic defense on a mission

Zero.

That’s the number of Foothill League games the Hart girls soccer team has lost in the last five years.

Two.

That’s the number of goals the Indians have conceded in their last 13 league games dating back to last season.

One thing is certain — Hart’s defense is adept at keeping the opposition from scoring.

It all starts with Hart’s head coach, Guilherme Mitrovitch. A native of Brazil who grew up playing defense — despite the common narrative that most Brazilian soccer players focus mainly on offense — he’s completely transformed the Hart girls soccer program, starting from the back row.

“We try to have a program that’s solid in all the fronts, but maybe because I played a lot as a defender, I do think it’s important if you’re building things from the back,” Mitrovitch said. “Defense wins championships, I do believe in that. I want to make sure we’re solid in the back because even if we’re not playing our best, if we’re solid defensively we’re in every game fighting and competing.”

Though Mitrovitch shuffles the lineup at times based on matchups and injuries, the usual starting back four consists of: junior left back Jessica Deegan, senior center back Kendall De La Vega, sophomore center back Jensen Shrout and junior right back Julia Melchiorre.

Senior Kaycie Priske, a three-year varsity player, starts at goalkeeper and serves as Hart’s last line of defense.

“She’s been huge for us,” Mitrovitch said about Priske. “She’s one of the leaders. She talks a lot, she is very vocal in the back keeping the defenders calm. That’s huge and that goes a long way.”

“It’s such a relief having Kaycie. She is awesome and has saved us so many times,” Shrout said. “So much of our success is definitely due to her and her saves and she does talk a lot to us which is necessary. She’s a really big part of our success.”

Shrout, who is in her second year on the varsity squad, said she’s learned a lot from Mitrovitch. Growing up in Brazil he played mostly left back but also spent time at center back, the same position Shrout plays.

Hart’s Jensen Shrout (3) heads the ball in a game against San Marcos earlier this season. Haley Sawyer/The Signal

She considers herself fortunate to play for such a knowledgeable coach, especially one who is so defensive-minded.

“I think I’m lucky because he is the most amazing coach and he definitely knows what he’s talking about. He really does help us defensively specifically, because he has that experience,” Shrout said. “It’s definitely an advantage for me because I’m a center back and with him being a center back, he does help me a lot with that.”

Shrout credits team chemistry as one of the main reasons Hart’s defense is so consistent.

It’s not only the defense she says. The entire team has built a strong bond that translates to success on the field.

“I think a big part of the success in our defense is the relationships we all have with each other. We’re all really close. Not just our defense, but our whole team, and I think it shows on the field,” she said. “It’s everybody. It’s a team effort and I think that our relationships, our connections really do help.”

“Our defense is fantastic. We owe all of our shutouts to them,” said junior midfielder Stefani Woll after an earlier win this season. “It’s just incredible that they’re able to keep so many shutouts and keep balls from going into the net. From Kaycie all the way up, they are always so composed, so strong. It helps us offensively as well. We owe it all them.”

With Hart having won the conference title five years in a row and holding onto an impressive streak of not losing a league game in that span, there aren’t too many more accolades the Indians can strive for that they haven’t already accomplished.

One aim, which might sound improbable, is actually very reachable based on Hart’s recent history: not conceding a single goal in league this season.

“That was our goal last year and it’s definitely our goal this year,” Shrout said. “Going into league this year that is 100 percent our goal defensively, to not concede a goal. Hopefully we can make that happen.”

With two shutouts in its first two league games of the season, Hart is well on its way to achieving that objective.

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