While football’s quarterback and basketball’s point guard are two of team sports most valued positions, baseball’s pitcher and soccer’s goalie are the cornerstone for any team’s success. And the latter two star for the defense.

Southwestern Assemblies of God University’s women’s soccer team is turning the page as it enters its sixth year of existence. Under new head coach Mandy Fortner, the Lady Lions will begin the fall in search of a new goal keeper.

Tracy Griffin, who finished her career this past season, led the Red River Athletic Conference in saves the last two years. The 5-foot-9 former keeper at Wylie High School kept 188 shots from crossing the goal in 17 games, an average of almost 12 per game. To show how porous the SAGU defense was last fall, consider that Griffin made 66 saves in 2009, and it still was the most of any goalie in the league.

Priority one for Fortner has been obvious: defense and controlling the ball at midfield. In coming to terms with four new players for the fall, she is addressing those needs. Brooke Burger, Haley Shingleton, Aranza Frias and Daniella Ramirez should contribute immediately for Team Lioness.

Securing a new netminder will see some impressive talent battling to be the heir to Griffin’s post between the pipes. As the last line of defense, the keeper must guard an area that is eight feet high and eight yards wide.

The only returning player with goalie college experience is Kendall Murders, though the 5-foot-3 senior will likely give her attention to playing as a defender. That leaves Fortner’s projection for two goalies on the roster.

Two keepers recently signed national letters of intent to play this fall for the Lady Lions. What once appeared as a major question mark could be the squad’s strength.

Brooke Burger, at 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds, has been playing the position for 13 years. She is from Kenosha, Wis., though she has lived the past few years near Wichita, Kan., where she played for Valley Center High School (Class 4A).

She registered eight shutouts and made more than 100 saves for the Hornets where her dad, Jeff Burger, was the head coach.

She is from a family of nine, so she is familiar with competition. She earned All-Region honorable mention last year as well as being named to the second team in the Ark Valley Chisholm Trail League (25 teams in Class 3A to 6A).

“Burger is strong, tall and fearless,” Fortner said. “She has good hands and is very vocal. I expect to see her fighting for the top spot. She will be getting time in the goal this season.”

Then there is Haley Shingleton. The goalie garnered First Team All-District for Houston’s Deer Park High School. She is known for her agility and knack for the ball. Shingleton is 5-foot-4 and quick at 130 pounds.

The Stags advanced into the state playoffs before losing to Sugar Land Clements, 1-0, ending their season with a 17-4-2 mark. Under coach Todd McBride, DP was 10-0 in District 22-5A.

“She is going to be a player for us,” Fortner said. “We will not be hurting in the nets with either Shingleton or Burger manning the position.”

While Fortner was a prolific scorer in college, she understands the game well. “Your goalie is the last line of defense for the team. Their performance is critical. When they are at their best they can erase mistakes by the defenders and can practically win games by themselves.”

The adage about the importance of the position is summed up in this famous quote. “The goalie is like the jewel in the crown. The jewel is the most precious part of the team. To let anyone get near her is the biggest crime there is.”

Continuing the need for defense, Fortner was also pleased to sign Aranza Frias. She was a defender for coach Vickie Manis at Lamar Consolidated H.S. in Rosenberg, Texas. Frias was named to the All-District 46-4A First Team as a player while also earning Academic All-District honors as well.

“She has medium height,” Fortner pointed out, “but don’t let that fool you. She has the tools and the potential to be a great defender. She moves the ball well and a good touch on the ball.”

Fortner is especially fond of Daniella Ramirez. Her skills qualify her for a range of roles, though “she could play the middle with Jess (Jessica Powell, Terrell),” according to SAGU’s new coach.

“Ramirez is an in-your-face type of player,” Fortner added. “She is very quick and aggressive.”

While the former Waco High School product distributes the ball well, she is not afraid to blast a shot on goal. What she may lack in size she more than makes up for with a feisty spirit on the soccer pitch.