Don’t let Friday’s box score fool you.
Even with just one save, Michelle Craft was as active as ever in helping the Great Oak girls soccer team advance out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time. The Wolfpack’s senior keeper just has a knack for making things easy on herself.
“If you hear her, she’s talking the entire time during a game,” Wolfpack coach Alicia Brennan said. “I think being in that position enables her to see the entire field, and you’re able to guide your fellow teammates and you’re able to tell them where we may have a weakness and where we may be letting someone slide in.
“She might not be getting her hands on the ball, but she is just as much a part of the play as any other girl. Our girls listen to Michelle, and she doesn’t have to make as many saves.”
Craft, in fact, has been quite a crutch for the Wolfpack over the last four years. Now they’ll lean on her even more as Great Oak (14-5-3) delves deeper into the CIF Southern Section Division II playoffs this week.
Question: You had just one save in last week’s playoff win. That doesn’t mean you’re not working in front of the net, does it? What are you doing back there when you’re not throwing yourself at a ball?
Answer: In games like that where there’s not much action, it’s really important to just stay involved and not get lazy and not get overconfident. My thing is directing my (defense) and talking to them and keeping their spirits up and helping out. From the back, you can see everything. Some people can’t see what’s going on around them if they are focusing on the ball or focusing on a player. I have to keep everyone organized.
Q: Your team came up a bit short in the Southwestern League race two weeks ago. How tough was that on you and your teammates?
A: It was very hard to just get back into it the first couple of days. As soon as the new week started, we were able to get past it. Our practices have been very productive and a lot of fun, and they were great preparation (for last week’s playoff win).
Q: It looks like it showed last week, too.
A: Yeah, we had moments of great soccer. I think playing well is being able to connect passes and possess the ball. We were able to do that for a lot of the game.
Q: Are you a goalie with nervous energy back there?
A: I’m not really nervous. I have a lot of trust in my defenders, and I have been playing so long that I thrive.
Q: You and your twin sister Nicole are both on the varsity team at Great Oak. What’s your relationship like with her?
A: We’re typical competitive siblings, but it’s taken up a notch because we’re twins, we both play soccer and we’re both in the same classes. We’ve got a very competitive relationship.
Q: Do you two have that twin sense going on in the Great Oak backfield?
A: It’s not like the stereotypical, telepathic thing that people always think. It’s just a natural thing that you know — like your intuition — she’ll be there, and she knows I’ll be there.
Q: Why is it that you’re the goalie in the family?
A: I just kind of fell into that role. I wasn’t afraid. … Not afraid of the ball. Not afraid of people coming at me.
Q: You’re definitely on an island as a keeper. What’s that pressure like for you?
A: I know that, no matter what, if I try my hardest, there’s nothing I can regret. So I just put everything out there.
Q: More than likely, you’ll face a penalty kick at some point in the playoffs — maybe even in a shootout. Are you ready?
A: I don’t really feel the pressure on them. That’s when I thrive on just pure adrenaline. Just making your decision to go and get it.
Q: What’s your strategy on PKs?
A: I analyze their run-up, what type of player they are and my gut feeling. It’s hard to explain. It’s just a feeling of knowing where they are going. … For PKs, the pressure is all on the kicker. They should make it. The pressure isn’t really on me. All I have to do is make one, and we should win if all my kickers make theirs.
Q: Your team advanced out of the first round for the first time last week. How big of a deal was that to you and your teammates?
A: Getting that win, especially after coming off losing the league title, was a big moment for us to get back on track and just be the team we know we are. This is a stepping-off point for things to come. We needed this to bring our team together.