When looking for an offensive spark, Central Valley girls' soccer coach Mark Perry doesn't turn to his bench, he turns to one of his defenders.
Junior Ashley Mutkus is one of the most versatile players in the WPIAL. An offensive player for her entire playing career, Mutkus moved to defense this year out of necessity. But when he thinks his team needs some offense, Perry knows he can turn to Mutkus.
"Her ability to play any position is huge for us," Perry said. "When she is playing in the back, she can get some rest so it is like bringing someone off the bench with fresh legs."
In Central Valley's first-round playoff game last Saturday, Perry turned to Mutkus. The No. 3-seeded Warriors (15-0-2) were leading No. 14 Knoch (11-8), 2-0, in the first half but Perry felt that his team had gone into a lull offensively after the early goals.
He moved Mutkus up to midfield and she came through with a goal to put Central Valley up comfortably, 3-0, heading into halftime.
"When we do move her up, it seems to add a spark to our team," Perry said. "Saturday we didn't have that energy and I decided to move her up and all of a sudden, we started to click. She scored a goal and we put her back on defense. Having Ashley is a great luxury to have."
Central Valley would go on to win, 6-0, and set up a WPIAL quarterfinal matchup against No. 6 South Park (13-4-1) Wednesday night.
Central Valley had to replace seven senior starters from last year. Those seven positions are now manned by seven freshmen. It is hard to imagine Central Valley advancing to the WPIAL quarterfinals without the play of Mutkus.
The Warriors were starting a freshman goalie and three freshman defenders. Badly needing an experienced upperclassman to help shore up the defense, Perry turned to Mutkus despite the fact that she is one of the top goal-scorers on the team and that she has never played defense previously.
With capable goal scorers such as Katie Alexander and Molly Delostrino returning on offense, Perry knew Mutkus would be more valuable to the team on defense.
"It was very new to me, I never played defense before," Mutkus said. "We lost a lot of people back there so that is where I went. It is tough sometimes because I do like my usual position, but at the same time it is for the team. It is all about the team and that was what had to be done."
Mutkus nonetheless managed to score 18 goals this season.
Defensively, Mutkus plays alongside freshman defenders Jessica Henderson and twin sisters Ally and Lexi Delostrino, the younger sisters of Molly Delostrino. The four defenders play in front of freshman goalie Robyn Hampe.
"It is not that tough playing with all freshmen because they have stepped up a lot," Mutkus said. "They obviously have their moments, as our coach would say, where they play like freshmen, but it is not much of a struggle.
"I like playing with them, I trust them."
The 6-0 playoff win against Knoch was the ninth shutout of the season by the Central Valley defense. The defense stepped up in the most challenging games, including a pair of double-overtime contests against Hopewell, a team with whom Central Valley shared the Section 3-AA title. In four halves of regulation plus four overtime periods, the Warriors only surrendered one goal to the Vikings.
"She is sacrificing some of her personal goals this year to help the team," Perry said. "If we played her up top or even in the middle, she would score a lot, but this is better for the team."