Chelsea Grover isn’t the type of player to back down from a challenge.
As one of WKU’s primary defenders, the 5-foot-4-inch senior’s job is to step in front of and stop sometimes bigger and faster opponents, denying them a free lane to the goal.
So when presented with the opportunity to lead a young bunch of Lady Toppers as a team captain, Grover wasn’t about to back down from another challenge.
“I’ve been trying to lead the team this year the best I can,” she said. “In whatever I do I always put the team first.”
After playing all 21 games as a sophomore, Grover had a tough junior season, as injuries limited her to only seven matches.
But this year she’s back to full health, and Head Coach Jason Neidell said Grover has been an anchor of WKU’s defense.
“She’s a good one-on-one defender, and her positioning is really, really good,” Neidell said. “We’re always joking with her because she’s constantly getting hit by the ball because she’s always in the right spot.”
Grover said she makes a conscious effort to focus on the fundamentals of her position, and it’s paying off for WKU.
The Lady Toppers haven’t allowed more than a single goal to be scored on them in any of their last four games and have given up more than one goal just twice — against Tennessee to open the season and later in a 2-1 loss to Minnesota.
“The mental aspects of playing defense — concentrating, positioning, reading the game — are just as important as the physical aspects,” Grover said.
Not that she’s a stranger to playing physical.
Grover’s trademark during her four years as a Topper has been her punishing style of defense — not only stopping a player, but discouraging that player from attacking her way again.
Grover is also respected by teammates because of her work ethic, junior forward Mallory Outerbridge said. Outerbridge compared Grover to one of the most popular work-ethic stories of all time: Rudy.
“She works harder than anybody else I’ve ever met — anybody else I’ve ever played with,” Outerbridge said. “And she’s an amazing leader.”
Grover’s leadership skills will soon be put to the test when the Lady Toppers get into Sun Belt Conference play Friday against North Texas.
WKU finished the 2009 season tied for second in the conference, so veterans such as Grover and Outerbridge have experience playing for winning teams.
“We’re definitely a young team, but you never know what the other teams in the conference are going to bring,” Outerbridge said. “I feel very confident in this team, and I think we’re going to go very far this season.”
Grover echoed Outerbridge’s optimism but said the team she’s helping lead still has some growing up to do before it will be in a position to win the Sun Belt.
“We definitely need to improve on the details of the game,” Grover said. “There’s tiny stuff all over the field we need to keep working on, but we’ll get there.”