Video Spotlight - The Back Six

LANGLEY, British Columbia - Let me introduce you to six very special soccer-playing individuals that all have one common bond.

At left back is Nikki Byrne. At left centre-back is Jenn Castillo. At right centre-back is Colleen Webber. At right back is Jilian Dietrich. In goal is Kristen Funk. And guiding them all from the sidelines is assistant coach Erin O’Driscoll.

They call themselves the “Back Six” and they’re darn proud of it.

Not only does this group anchor the Trinity Western women’s soccer team’s back end, but indeed they are the rudder that directs the Spartans ship.

And it’s not a stretch to say they may just be the best “Back Six” in the entire CIS.

In a year that has seen a number of changes within the Spartans forward and midfield units, the Back Six has been the mainstay. And for the second straight season, this group of four defenders, a goalie and a coach will hold the fort.

“We are so unified because we have to be,” said the third-year Castillo, who is the youngest of the group. “We are the start of the team going forward. It’s like we’re one back there and it’s a really great group. We’re all so different, but on the field we connect.”

And it’s that well-honed connection that made scoring against the Spartans so difficult last year and, with another year of experience, likely even more challenging this season. In 14 Canada West regular season games last season, the Spartans allowed seven goals and a league-low 47 shots while earning seven clean sheets. And for that, you can dole out plenty of credit to the Back Six.

“We know we’ve got each other’s back and we know every little quirk about each other on the field,” Byrne said

“I think we all bring something different, which is huge. Jill and I love getting forward and I think that having the confidence behind us knowing that Jenn and Colleen can hold the back line is really nice.”

The group first started playing together at the beginning of last season. And while O’Driscoll admits it took some work at first to find cohesion, by the time the 2011 regular season opened, there was plenty of buzz about the potential for such a talented unit. And if last year’s end of season awards are any indication, the Back Six proved the hype to be true. Consider this tidy collection of honours: Funk was named a CIS First Team All-Canadian, Castillo and Webber were named Canada West First Team All-Stars and Dietrich was named a Canada West Second Team All-Star.

“I think it’s worked because of the time and energy they’ve put in and the commitment to grow as a unit and to understand it’s not defending individually,” O’Driscoll said. “It’s become a really important unit for our team. They’re an entertaining bunch and they have some strong personalities but all in all it’s a very cohesive group.”

Last year, the quintet played a combined 5,937 regular season minutes in 14 games. Don’t bother doing that math. While Castillo and Webber missed one game each, other than that it’s pretty much the Back Six patrolling the pitch, albeit one from the sidelines, for every minute of every game.

So when one of the playing five goes down, as was the case early in preseason when Castillo was forced out of action following an emergency appendectomy, it can seem a little bizarre. Kind of like when you don’t get the whipped cream on your pumpkin spice latte: good but not quite the same.

“It was weird having different centre-backs but when (Castillo) came back it felt like finally it was back to the way it was supposed to be,” Webber said.

And, for this season, having it “back to the way it was supposed to be” means added pressure will be placed upon a now veteran group. But for the Back Six, pressure is what makes it fun.

“I love it,” Byrne said of the pressure to perform. “There is always going to be pressure but I think that goes for the whole team. There are a lot of expectations for our team.”

O’Driscoll added: “Anybody who is a good defender thrives under pressure because a mistake in the back can lead to a goal whereas a mistake up front doesn’t necessarily lead to an immediate goal against. There is lots of pressure but I think they thrive under that pressure and enjoy it.”

So far this season, the Back Six has got off to exactly the type of start one would expect as the Spartans have only allowed one goal and conceded only five shots on target through the first three games.

And from now on, they won’t need any more introductions.


Last Updated: 2012-09-17
Author: Mark Janzen