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Defense leads Jimmies

Defense has been the ultimate backbone for the University of Jamestown men’s soccer team.

With the transition to a new coach and the early-season losses after a record 16 wins in 2012, the Jimmies haven’t had any reason to think their defense wasn’t up to par.

“For the most part, collectively, our defense has held well,” Jamestown coach Tommy Nienhaus said. “We pride ourselves on our organization. Because of that, we haven’t been broken down too many times. Most of the goals (scored on us) were self-inflicted.”

Jamestown plays in an NAIA qualifying tournament at 2 p.m. on Friday, looking for another trip to nationals

The Jimmies (10-5-2) started the season losing two of their first three matches. And four of their five losses have come by a single goal.

“A lot of that stuff early in the year was a newness to my style,” Nienhaus said. “Once the guys kind of found their niche, it really started to take off. They’ve bought into some of the things we’re trying to do, like defending and attacking in different ways than they used to. All that stuff takes time.”

It’s appeared to have worked, as the Jimmies are 6-1-1 in their last eight matches. They’ve allowed 15 goals in 17 matches.

“It was just a matter of time; we have good enough players that they adapted pretty quickly,” Nienhaus said. “The first four games was really me just identifying guys that were best suited to play where and how many guys got certain minutes.”

The online roster lists six seniors for the Jimmies. Thomas Cooke, Frank Strnad, Jonathan Jacobs, Josh Cremen, Matt Balshaw and Dominic O’Connor are part of a group that could see their careers end over the weekend.

“They understand the finality coming in,” Nienhaus said. “They realize the next loss is their last game. They’ve all grasped that urgency.”

Replacing Cooke and O’Connor next year could be the most difficult task.

Cooke, out of Northampton, England, shares goalkeeping duties with Stephen Harris. Cooke has an astounding 16 shutouts to his credit in his four-year career.

A native of Accrington, England, O’Connor has a team-high six goals to go with three assists. In his career, he’s totaled 26 goals and 22 assists.

But with the seniors’ final season winding down, the verbal emphasis won’t be going their way.

“I’ve really been harping on the underclassmen in terms of their urgency and how they prepare,” Nienhaus said. “They’ll never be as urgent as the seniors.

“But in the grand scheme of things, you only get four shots at a national title. Why wait for that chance? A lot of them have grasped that.”

Sun sportswriter Chris Aarhus can be reached at (701) 952-8462 or