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Sophomore plays the hero in double-overtime state tourney game

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BLOOMFIELD — Until last week, Bloomfield girls soccer player Vanessa Harris focused almost solely on her defense. And she was more than content with that.

But on Friday — when the 11th-seeded Lady Bobcats tangled with No. 6 Taos in the 4A state tournament opening round game — coach Shannon Nygren saw a whole different side of Harris.

"Vanessa is usually more defensive, and this was the first time I’ve ever really seen her step up offensively," Nygren said.

Harris, a sophomore, picked a good game to have a breakout party.

In double overtime against the Lady Tigers, with the score tied 0-0, Harris used the same outstanding speed that landed her on the varsity track team as an eighth grader to beat her defender down the left side and score the game-winning goal.

"The ball just barely skimmed off the bottom of the crossbar and into the bottom right corner of the net,” Nygren said of the goal. "She has such a big leg and big foot that you’ll see her send a lot of balls sailing over the net. But not this one."

That one monumental playoff goal matched Harris’ entire season total.

As a freshman last year, she played only on defense. But when Nygren arrived as head coach prior to this season, she decided Harris’ skill set was better suited to help the offense, so she moved her to center midfield.

"She’s got excellent ball control and an amazing foot," Nygren said.  "She’s got an amazing long ball, too. We’re still working on communication, but those three key things are there with her as far as speed, ball control and long ball."

Harris said she actually prefers playing defense. But since Nygren has shown so much confidence in Harris' offensive abilities, she said proving her coach right was on her mind during crunch time on Friday.

"I was thinking, 'We need to win this game, I want this game to be over, and I want to make my coach proud. So I’m making this happen, I can do this,'" Harris said.

Going into the Taos match, the original game plan was for Harris to shadow fellow sophomore Cora Cannedy, a 33-goal scorer from this season and the Lady Tigers’ most dynamic player.

But when junior Bryanna Parrish proved early on in the contest that she could contain Cannedy, Harris said she took it upon herself to shy away from the game plan and make her presence felt on offense.

"I was comfortable with (Parrish), and some of our other players holding her down,” Harris said. “And since we were having trouble scoring in that game, I was like, 'OK, now it’s my job to help on offense.'"

Nygren wasn’t the least bit upset at Harris’ decision to join the offensive attack.

“It’s something I saw in her right when I got here, is her ability to be a great offensive player," Nygren said. "So it was really good to see."

Going forward, Harris plans to make a conscious effort to use her athleticism to her advantage on offense. And as she gets more acclimated to her new position, she said her confidence continues to grow. But she said the adjustment from defense to midfield wasn’t the smoothest transition.

“I like to hang back, so just kind of beating it in my own head to stay up front is something that I had a hard time getting doing,” she said.

A head injury — she suffered a concussion in an Aug. 22 game against Kirtland Central —  didn't help with the transition. The injury forced Harris to miss more than two weeks of action, and when she came back, she avoided headers. But according to Nygren, Harris used that time to improve in other areas of the game.

"Her trapping has been amazing," Nygren said. "She’s been a lot more body conscious since the concussion, as far as trapping the ball."

Since returning from injury in mid-September, Harris has gotten back on track. Her newfound offensive aggression that resulted in Friday’s game-winning goal is only the beginning of what both she and Nygren expect to be an offensive force for Bloomfield.

Harris will get a chance to build off her big performance on Thursday, when Bloomfield battles No. 3 St. Michael's and junior Nique Enloe, who leads the entire state in goals with 48.

Like the rest of her teammates, Harris can’t wait to face that challenge.

"It’s all we’ve been talking with each other all weekend," she said. "We are really, really excited."

Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.

A closer look: Vanessa Harris

1. Favorite team?

"Team U.S.A. (women's soccer)."

2. Favorite athlete?

"Carli Lloyd."

3. Favorite food?

"Chinese."

4. Favorite movie?

"Finding Nemo."

5. Favorite subject in school?

"I can't decide between science and math."

6. Least favorite subject?

"History."

7. Biggest fear?

"Heights."

8. Do you play any other sports?

"Track."

9. What is the first thing you would do with $1 million?

"I would probably either go on a mission trip or buy shoes."

10. Do you have any pregame rituals?

"Not really. Just chill and get my mind focused."

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