West Allegheny senior center back Zach Graziani's job is made easier because he's surrounded by a number of talented teammates.
It doesn't mean that his job is easy.
At the center of the undefeated Indians' three-man back line, Graziani, a 6-foot-1 defender is relied on to get a read on attacking motions, organize defensive coverage and, when all else fails, snuff out attacks on his own.
It's a role in which Graziani, a four-year-starter who has started every game of his high school career, has thrived. He's attracted the interest of NCAA Division I soccer programs such as Duquesne, Robert Morris, Marshall and Xavier.
"Whether it be professional or club or high school, I think reading the game is very important," he said. "To be a good center back, you kind of have to be the leader of the defense. When you see gaps in coverage, you need to be communicating with players to move them into gaps, to keep the team's shape."
Playing in a 3-4-3 formation in its truest sense, the Indians (13-0-2, 9-0-2) consistently throw a number of players forward in attack. If you're counting, it's three forwards, four midfielders typically involved in attacks. On occasion, adventurous senior left back Josh Schmander ventures forward as well.
They score a lot of goals, an average of a little more than four per game.
But that attacking mindset can allow gaps to form as players venture away from their position. When they do, it's Graziani's job to fill the gap, either on his own or by calling for teammates to adjust their positioning for maximum effect.
So far, Graziani and the defense have handled their duties with aplomb. Through 15 games, West Allegheny has surrendered only four goals, never allowing more than one in any game. Senior starting goalkeeper Spencer Wolfe has only given up one himself.
With eight returning starters, the Indians haven't missed a beat from where last year's 15-win team left off. That level of familiarity and success has afforded Graziani the trust of his teammates.
"This year, when I ask the players in front of me to do something, they adjust well," he said. "I have two really athletic center midfielders in front of me. Basically, if I do my job telling them where to be, it makes my job physically a hundred-times easier."
Those central midfielders are Mike Miara and Nick Jaroszynski. They, along with Schmander and sophomore forward Cooper Amos, do a lot of work generating offense and feeding the ball to prolific junior forwards Collin Wurst (16 goals) and Mike Cummings (11 goals).
It's because they have such a staunch back line that the midfield is able to hold onto the ball so much, and it's because the team has so much ball control at midfield that they're able to unleash three forwards on opponents.
"Defensively, we haven't given up many goals," West Allegheny coach Mike Amos said. "I think all of our parts work together."
But if there were to be one player whom West Allegheny's hopes for a section title -- they're a point ahead of South Fayette (14-1-1, 9-1-1) -- and postseason success rely on heavily, it's Graziani.
"Zach has been the strong point all season, this year and last," Amos said. "Anchoring the back line, he's been strong defensively. Some teams need to put four guys in the back, but we're able to go with only three. It puts a lot of pressure on him, but it's a role he thrives in."
The hope is that a year wiser, healthier and maybe with a little more luck will keep the Indians alive well into the postseason.
Last year, Graziani turned his ankle early in West Allegheny's WPIAL quarterfinal match against Belle Vernon Area. He came back and played most of the game, but wasn't at full speed. Belle Vernon won, 1-0.
"They eventually scored, but he wasn't the player that he was [after the injury]," Amos said. "If we had him healthy all game, I don't think there's any way they would've scored."
First Published October 9, 2013 8:00 PM