“I don’t know what we’d do without Sam,” Jenkins said.

Bickford, a third-year starter between the pipes as a junior, blushed. The other players standing nearby broke out in laughter.

But they all agreed.

“You can’t always get back, so you have to trust that she’s going to be there for you,” Katie Bowie, another midfielder, said.

“We can trust her 100 percent back there. I have no doubt,” Jenkins added.

Bickford is the linchpin of a string Oxford Hills defense that will have to be a big reason for the team’s improvement.

“She’s very strong, she’s confident, and she does a great job of communicating with her players,” Oxford Hills coach Jaimee Brett said. “She’s got the best eyes on the field.”

But Bickford isn’t the only piece of the Vikings’ defense. And she’ll be the first to tell you so.

A three-year starter, Bickford has been around her defensive core for the past couple of seasons.

“We have the same people around, so we know each other, we trust each other,” Bickford said. “You build that trust as you play more, and you build off that, and off one another.”

This year’s team, a team that went just 3-9 a year ago, will turn to its defense first this season in its search for offense, given its strength on the back end.

“We lost our two defensive leaders last year, and the two best players had to come all the way back and help bring it out,” defender Abby Angevine said. “This year, we’re building that back up.”

Brett’s plan to do that? Less running, more skills.

“We used to run a lot, and this year, we’ve been working more on our stick skills,” Angevine said. “That’s helped improve our team morale. This year, we’re working better passing to everybody. Usually, when you first start, sometimes it’s, ‘I don’t know if I want to pass to her, she might miss it,’ but this year we don’t have that at all. It’s ‘I know she’s going to catch the ball.'”

“My thought this year is to think more about the passing than the running,” Brett said. “The running is good, don’t get me wrong, and we have girls who can run forever, but we’re really encouraging that team dynamic where we’re passing the ball up the field to move it quickly.”

Angevine will be a big piece of that puzzle, often being called upon for that first or second pass out of the defensive end.

“Abby will be really good back there,” Brett said. “She has that really good field sense.”

The defenders aren’t the only players thinking defensively, either.

“I have some really string returning players that have that mindset,” Brett said. “I have some girls who were playing offense who now are playing better on the back end. Their overall field sense is just improving. And I have some girls who have never played before, who are looking really good defensively. I’m very optimistic about defense. We’re a very team-oriented defense.”

The philosophy is sinking in quickly with the players.

“There’s no offense without defense,” Jenkins said.

From the back end out, Bickford, Angevine, and Amanda Martin will be a solid anchor. Bowie, Jenkins and Allyssa Hanley will help solidify the middle of the field with an eye toward defense, while Sadie Record and Paige Garcia will look to lead the scoring on the attack.

“We look pretty good,” Bickford said. “We have good defense, and we have a lot of strong players, and the new players are picking things up quickly.”

The new mindset has the team using the ‘P’ word, even if only cautiously.

“Playoffs?” Brett asked sheepishly. “Yeah, we’re optimistic about that. I mean, a lot of things can happen, but this team believes that it can get there, and I really believe that we can.”


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