Using backline brawn to challenge foes

Sophomore Alex Sandland isn’t the sort of defender who goes unnoticed.

Rushing to headers and sliding through tackles before the opposing offense can reach the goal box, it’s common to see Sandland throwing his body around the field to stop an oncoming attacker at all costs.

“He wants to win the ball,” head coach George Lidster said. “He doesn’t care if he’s putting his head in the way, or his body in the way. That’s how a true defender should play.”

Playing primarily as a striker in high school, Sandland led his team in scoring his senior season, netting 24 goals that year. When he came to GW, Sandland switched to a defensive position, as a center back, and has only found the back of the net once.

Although he is only in his second season on the field, Sandland has cemented himself as a reliable last line of defense, deterring attack after attack by opposing offenses. This often crucial nature of his play was highlighted by his sole goal as a Colonial, a game-winner against USC Upstate earlier this season.

“As long as we are doing our job and winning, I don’t care if I get the credit,” Sandland said. “I’ve been moved around a little bit here and there, but that’s where I feel at home – at center back.”

As a freshman, Sandland saw playing time in 14 matches, starting 10 of them, before being sidelined for the season with a hamstring injury.

His injury from the previous season has not altered the way Sandland approaches the game. He doesn’t shy away from using his body to stop an attack. The possibility of re-injure is not a deterrent, but rather a symbol of the bravery that Lidster said makes Sandland one of his top defenders.

A season ago, injuries doomed GW to a 1-8 record in conference play, ending with a disappointing 3-15 record for the season and finishing 13 of 14 in the conference. And the team’s backline has been injury-plagued again this season, seeing senior defenders Brice Carr and Jake Davis, junior goalkeeper Brendan Lafferty, junior defender Jamie LaFleur and freshman Matthew Scott retired to the sidelines. Yet roster troubles have yet to impact the team’s record in the way they did last season.

GW has recorded a 3-2 conference record, good enough for sixth place in the A-10. In five conference games this season, the Colonials defense has allowed only five goals, which is the third fewest in A-10 play. The defense has tallied the second most shutouts in conference play, with three, and is limiting A-10 opponents to just over four shots on target a game. It’s a constant struggle for opposing offenses to break through what Lidster calls his “makeshift backline,” a line anchored by Sandland.

“[Carr] and [Scott] became leaders of the defense, and now [Sandland] has stepped up in taking that role. He leads by example, and the other guys are picking it up from him,” Lidster said. “He’s like our Ray Lewis.”

Out-thinking and out-maneuvering an opponent isn’t always simple, and Sandland often appears to do it with ease. The key to his success, he said, is simple: belief in his own abilities.

“I’ve always had that confidence.” Sandland said. “I’m not the best player, I might not be the strongest or fastest, but I always believe in myself that I can out-due somebody or that I’m going to win that first challenge. That’s the sort of player I am and that’s how I’m always going to be.”

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