Girls soccer teams in the Northern Region know beating Mount Vernon involves dealing with Charlene Belanger. What isn’t so certain for opponents is on which end of the field Belanger will be causing problems.
Belanger plays goalkeeper and forward for the Majors and has been recruited by colleges at both positions. She is orally committed to American University as a goalie, yet performed well enough as a forward to garner all-region honors her sophomore season.
Mount Vernon head coach Tony Garza tells Belanger where she’ll play prior to each game, though she usually starts at goalie during National District contests. When Belanger plays forward, freshman Alexis LyBarger takes over in goal.
As a keeper, Belanger has 27 saves. As a forward, she’s tallied six assists and a team-high four goals. Belanger has an impact wherever she plays and brings with her a passion for the game.
"It’s just really exciting to play two different positions," she said. "I’ll play anywhere. I just like to play."
Once Belanger knows her assignment, she selects her game attire and starts focusing on the task at hand.
"You have to get in the mindset of what you’re doing," she said. "When you play forward you have to score, but when you’re playing defense you have to deny it. It’s really just getting in the mindset of what’s being asked of you that day."
In the season opener against Wakefield on March 25, Belanger scored three second-half goals to lead the Majors to a 3-2 victory. Against Yorktown on April 16, Mount Vernon was on defense for much of the contest. Belanger played keeper and, after allowing a first half goal, made several athletic saves during a 1-0 loss to the Patriots.
Belanger is "fantastic," Yorktown coach Vicky Brunt said. "I thought we were getting in and then serving soft crosses in, which she was of course eating up. I don’t think that we tested her — and I’m sure she would have done well even if we had — we didn’t test her too many times."
Garza praised Belanger’s leadership qualities, as well as her athletic ability.
"She is a player any coach would want," he said. "I wish Charlene had a twin sister, I wish we could clone her. As an overall player, I don’t want to use the [term] ‘heart and soul’ of our team, but every single player on our team looks to her for guidance, looks to her for leadership on the field. They ask her how to improve their games all the time. She’s just an all-around great player, somebody who’s committed to playing goalie — who in my opinion is one of the best goalies around — and [has the ability to] come on the field [as a forward]."
Mount Vernon is 3-4, including 2-1 in district play. After beating Wakefield, Mount Vernon lost to West Potomac, 3-0, on March 26. The Majors responded by beating Marshall, 2-1, and Falls Church, 2-0. But since then, Mount Vernon is 0-3 with shutout losses against Centreville, Yorktown and Lee. Against Yorktown, the Majors were without four starters — junior Michelle Naleid and freshmen Jaelin White, Alexis LyBarger and Serena Schantz — due to injury.
Along with Belanger, Garza praised the play of senior defenders Gabby Gadson and Katie Sargent, and freshman sweeper Megan O’Dell.
The Majors return to district play with a home game against Stuart at 7 p.m. April 22.