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The Best Defense
The following article featuring women's soccer forward Aimee Luurtsema first appeared in the Sept. 17 issue of Flames Illustrated, the official game program for the Liberty-James Madison football game. Luurtsema and the Lady Flames return to action on Friday, when they travel George Washington. Game time is slated for 4 p.m.
Some sports enthusiasts believe the best defense is a good offense. Others argue that the best offense is a good defense. Regardless of which saying holds true, it is safe to say Liberty women's soccer senior forward Aimee Luurtsema knows a little about both.
Recruited as a defender, Luurtsema looked at schools such as UCLA, Arizona State and Michigan State, located approximately two and a half hours from her hometown of Grandville, Mich. However, after visiting Liberty's campus, other factors superseded the idea of being closer to home.
"I wanted to come to a Christian school," Luurtsema stated emphatically. "There was something about Liberty that made me feel comfortable. I was visiting other schools, but I felt like Liberty was where I needed to be."
During her high school and club soccer days, Luurtsema took the field as a member of the back line, but those around her knew she was versatile enough to play up front.
"On my club team, my coach called me ‘The Sniper,' because when we were losing and we needed to score a goal, she'd take me out and put me up at forward," Luurtsema recalled. "But I mainly played defense."
Upon arriving at Liberty in 2008, Luurtsema remained a defender with the Lady Flames during head coach Jessica Hain's inaugural season. The following year, Hain chose to move her to forward just before the start of conference play. Playing the position for the first time against Francis Marion on Sept. 24, 2009, Luurtsema finished with two assists in the Lady Flames' 4-0 win. From that point on, Hain and her coaching staff knew there was literally no going back.
"Aimee is a strong leader and really smart forward," Hain said. "We originally recruited her as a defender, but she's such a competitor that we found she does a really good job up front."
Of course the switch did not come without an adjustment period. Playing the final 13 games of the 2009 season up top, Luurtsema closed out the year with three goals and three assists.
"It took a little bit of getting used to as far as how to move on the field and getting that forward mentality of going to goal instead of passing it off," Luurtsema recounted. "Last year I definitely started developing that mentality more."
The 2010 season was a breakout year for the converted forward. Luurtsema led the Lady Flames with 13 goals and 31 points last season, ranking her 21st and 29th nationally in the two categories. The Michigan native's numbers also allowed to her to finish second in the Big South Conference in both goals and points.
Luurtsema concluded the year tied for second in the program's annals for the most goals in a single season and third on Liberty's single-season points list. Along with receiving second team Big South all-conference honors, she also earned a VaSID all-state selection. During the regular season, she was named Big South Player of the Week on two occasions, as well as ECAC Player of the Week.
Luurtsema became just the second player in program history to finish with more than 30 points, with Nancy Davis being the only other Lady Flame to accomplish the feat.
"I live with [Lauren Kamphuis] an alumnus of the soccer team and she has mentioned Nancy Davis," Luurtsema commented. "From what I've heard, she's been a great player, so to be compared to her and have records close to hers is an honor."
Even with all the individual accolades and recognition Luurtsema received last season, the senior leader knows she cannot take all the credit.
"Obviously, I couldn't have done what I did last year without [Madison Short's] assists, Silvia [Betancourt] and my other teammates," Luurtsema said.
Every new season brings new faces to the program. This year, Lady Flames soccer fans will see a number of those faces playing alongside Luurtsema at the forward and midfield positions.
"The freshmen definitely bring in a lot of foot skills, specifically Maddie Boone in the center," Luurtsema noted when asked about this year's newcomers. "Geena [Swentik] doesn't normally play forward, she plays defense, but she plays a good high target up there. Our freshmen came in good shape, so they should help contribute this year."
This season also marked the return of Karen Blocker to the Liberty net, after the goalkeeper missed the entire 2010 campaign due to injury. On Sept. 7, the netminder was tabbed Big South Defensive Player of the Week for her performances in games against Longwood, Brown and Valparaiso.
"It's good to see Karen back," Luurtsema said. "She's a great goalkeeper and leader on the field. Having a good leader and a goalkeeper back there that can get the job done helps a team's confidence."
Liberty entered the 2011 campaign picked to finish fifth in the Big South Conference preseason poll. After being eliminated from the Big South Championship on penalty kicks the last two seasons, the Lady Flames refuse to let history repeat itself.
"As a team, we know we can be one of the top teams in the Big South," Luurtsema stated. "Even though we are picked fifth in the Big South, talent-wise we know that we're better than that."
Given the confidence she has in her teammates, Luurtsema's goal for the Lady Flames this year is pretty cut and dried – capture Liberty's fourth Big South championship and earn an automatic bid to the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
While she describes herself as a player who thrives on pressure, Luurtsema says she performs better when she does not place any expectations on herself. Following this philosophy last season, Luurtsema shook up the program record books. This year, she plans on sticking to her viewpoint and letting her actions speak for themselves.
"I don't really have many expectations for myself," Luurtsema said. "I just want to help my team win, whether it is scoring goals or assisting or just being out there working hard."
Eric Brown is an assistant athletics communications director for Liberty Athletics.