Madison Diaz gives a pretty sensible answer when it comes to explaining why she prefers to be a defender rather than a scorer in soccer.
“I like the fact I can stop goals from happening just like (the forwards) like the fact they can score goals,” the Nottingham High senior said.
“There’s just something about defense I like more than offense,” she continued. “A lot of girls on the team say, ‘I don’t know why you love defense so much,’ but I just like the aggressiveness and how physical it is. Not that they aren’t aggressive up top; our girls up top are super aggressive.”
Diaz has helped prevent goals for four years, having made the varsity as a freshman after playing with the Hamilton Wildcats and New Jersey Rush. She has given up travel soccer for basketball, but still loves the game enough to want to play on the high school level.
It would have been easy for Diaz to become frustrated during her first two years, when the Northstars were a combined 6-28.
“The losing was definitely tough,” she said. “It almost felt like we were used to losing. That wasn’t something that was easy for me to do because that’s not something you should be used to. Losing isn’t something anybody should want to do or be used to doing it. It’s fun to win and be with your friends winning, so losing wasn’t very good.”
Diaz decided to use the experience for the good of her own game.
“I think it made me a better player mentally; because I knew even though I was a freshman I had to keep my head up,” she said. “No matter what our record was, no matter what team we were playing, I still had to play my hardest. I think that helped me a lot, especially because when I was a freshman. I had no idea what I was coming into.”
Diaz said things were a little better for her as a sophomore, at least personally. But the team went from four wins to two, and she knew that it was her time to become one of the leaders.
“We were still kind of used to losing that year,” she said. “It made me realize ‘OK, you only have two years left. You have to get the team together and you have to pick things up. You can’t let this be another year of expecting to lose.”
The Northstars also got a new coach who not only didn’t expect to lose; and expected at least a winning effort every time out. Christie Fink brought a new attitude into the 2016 season and would guide Nottingham to a 6-13 season. While that’s far from a glittering record, it was as many wins as the previous two seasons combined.
“I think our confidence went from 50 to 100,” Diaz said. “Even if we were going up against teams we felt we had no chance against, when we stepped on the field we felt we were going to win that game no matter what. It was so much easier for us to have a higher confidence. Plus, our team chemistry has been good, which is something we needed.”
Things have gotten even better this year, as Nottingham surpassed its 2016 win total 13 games into the season with a 7-6 mark. Through the entire process, Diaz has been a constant in the back.
‘We want to try and keep our season going as long as we can for her and our other seniors.’
Fink has her at sweeper, which is turning into a near-extinct position with so many coaches playing a flat back four. But the former Steinert and Rowan standout is old-school when it comes to her defenders.
“I’m just more of a traditionalist,” the coach said. “That’s what I’m used to right now, and I feel with our personnel that’s what we play better with. Sometimes we push her up to stopper because she’s very good technically so we want her involved more, but we are just as comfortable and confident with her back there.”
Diaz has no complaints, as she feels equally comfortable and confident with her role.
“I like it because I see the whole field,” she said. “It’s easy for me to say, ‘Hey you have this girl, you have that girl.’ I see everything that’s going on.”
Maddy also relishes being the last line of defense in front of keepers Sara Haas and Madison Colabella.
“I feel I play a lot better with pressure on me,” she said. “Being the last defender back, I know I can’t just leave my keeper out to dry by herself. So having that pressure on me—consistently knowing I’m the last one back, and if she gets past me it’s her and the keeper—I feel that makes me play a better game.”
Her skills are not the only value Diaz brings to the program. She is in her second season as captain and is considered “our go-to girl” by Fink.
“She is very mature, she deals with the girls very well,” the coach said. “She’s a great role model and a great leader on the field for the girls, they look up to her. You have to be a strong leader at sweeper. You have to be confident and that’s what she is. She’s strong on the ball and knows how to play. She’s really very well respected by the team and by the coaches.”
Diaz is still in the process of deciding on her next stop. Although she is not being recruited, she wants to play soccer or basketball at some level once she gets to college and will try to walk on or play intramurals.
“I don’t know what I would do without playing sports,” Diaz said. “I’ve played my entire life but not playing would not be natural.”
That’s not to say she is a one-dimensional person. With the goal of being a special education teacher, she is a member of Nottingham’s Future Educators Club, whose members volunteer for elementary school after-school programs and donate money and toys. Diaz is also with the Hamilton NEWS, which is a combination of Steinert, Nottingham and Hamilton West students.
“We get together and do projects with all three of the schools, instead of being divided,” Diaz said. “We’re all part of Hamilton, so why not do it.”
It is that type of attitude that so impresses Fink with her sweeper.
“It’s like having an adult around; she’s more mature than some adults I know,” the coach said. “We were just saying how much we’re going to miss having her, just as a kid in our program. She comes from a great family and we’re very lucky to have her and her family in the program. We want to try and keep our season going as long as we can for her and our other seniors.”
Which would give Diaz even more time to prevent people from scoring—a true labor of love.