By Meg Wochnick, Columbian staff writer
Just before the lights turned off at Doc Harris Stadium to signify the official end of practice, causing the Papermakers to scurry to and from the locker room before pitch-black darkness set in, the team’s only four-year starter stood to speak.
Perri Belzer, the senior captain, has been down this road before … four times, in fact.
The Papermakers reached the 4A semifinals for the third consecutive season, a feat that Belzer called “a great surprise” given what appeared to be a rebuilding season after Camas graduated 10 seniors off last season’s state championship squad.
“We’ve had more confidence in how we’ve been playing,” said Belzer, a starting defender since her freshman season, “and the results are showing that.”
Head coach Roland Minder said the team wouldn’t be where it is without Belzer, a mainstay in the defense her entire high school career.
What’s key, Minder said, is most of the backline is reshaped annually. The exception is Belzer, who transitioned to center back after three years as an outside back this season. Minder added that when rebuilding his back four, often he takes players off the front line.
“I like my back players to have good, technical skills just as much as my front players,” he said, “and having that makes it better to keep the ball out of the back.”
This year, joining Belzer in the back are Aliya Ponder, Lily Prouse and Kierstyn Heilbrun. Three of the four have played all 20 games together, and their strengths as prior offensive players help on the Camas’ counter attack and transition. Camas’ defense allowed just 13 goals this season.
“Having that offensive composure in front of the goal helps,” Belzer said, “and bringing that to the defense helps with controlling the ball.”
What makes Perri the player she is, Minder said, as the 4A Greater St. Helens defensive player of the year, begins with her understanding of the game, and directing those around her.
“She knows when to go and when to stay,” he said. “I can’t think of any other defensive player that I would prefer to have back there than Perri. Not even close.”