As a defender, Celeste Fushimi-Karns isn't tasked with scoring goals for the Ohio University women's soccer team.

She scored her first collegiate goal last season as a junior, when she helped the Bobcats beat Miami 2-0 for their first win over their Mid-American Conference rival since 2008.

When it comes to goals, Fushimi-Karns is more focused on the kind that relate to her team's performance. Heading into her final season at OU, the 2014 Worthington Kilbourne High School graduate would like to help the Bobcats improve on last season's 5-12-1 record.

"We lost a lot of close games last year because we couldn't finish and struggled some on offense," said Fushimi-Karns, a three-year letterwinner and three-time academic All-MAC selection. "We lost six games in overtime or double-overtime and only lost twice by more than one goal.

"But we're really expecting a better season this year. We had a great spring season and we have great team chemistry on and off the field. We trust each other."

Fushimi-Karns has played in 52 of her team's 55 games over three seasons. She played outside back as a freshman, moved to center back as a sophomore and returned to outside back last season, when she made nine starts.

"Our coach, Aaron Rodgers, likes to rotate starters at outside back depending on the opponent, but tries to keep the (starting) center back pretty consistent," said Fushimi-Karns, who had 13 goals and 28 assists at Kilbourne and was a second-team all-state honoree in Division I as a junior and senior.

"I love the fact that Celeste is such a team-first player," Rodgers said. "She accepts her role within the team and does it with a smile. She embraces her role and is a leader, even when she doesn't start. She has a positive influence on her teammates and gives you everything she has.

"She demonstrates the attitude that every coach loves; she aims to do whatever is best for the team."

Fushimi-Karns knows her strengths and weaknesses and understands her role on the team.

"I read the game well and communicate well," she said. "I think I'm tactically strong and comfortable with my teammates and knowing where they are. But I'm not as quick as some other girls, so I don't get forward into the attack as well. We have some very fast girls who are aggressive in the attack.

"So when (Rodgers) thinks we can counter against a certain opponent, that's when those girls start. The (starting) lineup is usually determined by the opponent."

Fushimi-Karns, who also earned four letters in gymnastics at Kilbourne, said the biggest differences between high school and collegiate play are the overall speed of the game and the skill of the players.

"In high school, you can take a breath with the ball and make a decision on what to do, but in college you have to know what to do with the ball before you get it," she said. "All of the girls are faster at this level and all of the girls are talented. In high school, you may have two or three really skilled players on offense and one or two on defense."

When the Bobcats open the season Aug. 18 at home against Robert Morris, they will be seeking their first winning season since 2009 when they finished 9-8-1.

"We worked really hard this spring on getting our midfielders to check in and out so we can find them," Fushimi-Karns said. "I think our line of distribution is very much improved. I think we will be mentally stronger and win some of those close games this year. It would be great to get off to a fast start to the season because that could benefit us mentally in those one-goal differentials."

bemerine@thisweeknews.com

@Brad_ThisWeek