Babson College goalkeeper Jackson Klein boots the ball into the air as if a space shuttle was taking off from a launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. As the ball floats in the sky like a hot air balloon, players from both Springfield College and Babson gather beneath like children stalking their favorite celebrity. As the ball makes its decline among the crowd, one player from the Springfield side seems to be just inches above the rest.
Junior centre-back Drew Vanasse gets in position, rises up and heads the ball to fellow centre-back, classmate and roommate John Mankus. The connection between the two replicates a centre-back duo like no other.
The combination of Vanasse and Mankus has been the base of a big, athletic Springfield defense all season, who have only allowed an average of 1.28 goals per game. They lead an elite group of defenders that also includes junior Collin Smith and sophomore Drew Sommer.
For the past three seasons, captain David Chessen assumed the role of centre-back. In those three years, the senior started 57 out of 58 games that were played, making him a vital part of the Pride defensive system. This season, with the opportunity to take on a new position as a center defensive midfielder, Chessen was more than happy to pass along the duties to the rising stars.
“They’re both big, strong guys, so they can go up and win a head ball,” said Chessen. “Mankus is a little more physical, and Drew is a little more technical. They can both play the long ball, and they can both win the head balls. Physically and mentally they are both really strong for us.”
Although Chessen is no longer playing centre-back, Mankus has excelled at his position from watching his captain excel for the past three years.
“Chessen has been a very important role model, to not only to me as a player, but to the team as well,” said Mankus. “We’ve learned to play centre-back by watching him play himself. He has been our captain for the past three seasons and has rightfully earned that honor.”
It is not just their connection on the field, but it is the friendship between the two that keep Vanasse and Mankus motivated to be the best centre-backs they can be. A relationship that allows each of them to criticize, supply feedback and ask for help to optimize their playing ability. Whether it is eating dinner, studying in the library or relaxing playing FIFA ’13, the two are inseparable.
“Playing centre-back with John definitely makes my job a lot easier,” said Vanasse. “Being on the same page with John helps our defensive unit stay more organized. I have complete confidence in John that when I make a mistake or am out of position, he’ll be there to fix it.”
Just as the old adage goes, you don’t really know what you’ve got until it’s gone. When asked how Mankus and Vanasse contribute to the team, Coach Steffen Siebert simply replied, “It is unbelievable what they do for the team. I think you see how important they are when they are not around.”
In a rematch of last year’s NEWMAC Championship game, Springfield held No. 12 ranked Babson’s potent scoring attack off the scoreboard in a 0-0 draw. The great defensive play by Mankus and Vanasse had a solid contribution to keeping the Beavers off the board.
“Both John and Drew are very solid centre-backs, and both played an excellent game against us Saturday,” said Babson coach Jon Anderson. “I believe it was Mankus who might have made a few goal-line saves. They work extremely hard and do a great job organizing the defense.”
The Pride will look to Mankus and Vanasse for solid support on the backline headed into their final conference game of the season this Saturday versus WPI. If the Pride win on Saturday, they will enter into the NEWMAC tournament with a chance to defend their league championship from last season.
Describing the defense that plays in front of him, freshman goalkeeper Billy Schmid said it best,“If they can’t score, they can’t win.”