Emily Thompson is part traffic cop, part brick wall and completely fearless while patrolling the middle of Turlock High's fast-paced attack.
"I brought her up to the varsity as a freshman last season because she had the size and speed to compete," coach Dennis Bishop said. "She just needed a chance to adjust to the game speed."
Thompson had no trouble keeping up Monday. In fact, the 5-foot-8-inch midfielder set the pace while leading Turlock to a 4-1 Central California Conference win over Golden Valley.
Thompson didn't score a goal, nor did she get credit for an assist, yet her role in the victory was undeniable.
Time after time, she threw herself into the action. She jumped in front of passes on defense, and fired low balls that split defenders and set up teammates for numerous runs at the goal.
"This was one of the games that we had been looking forward to," said Thompson, noting the Bulldogs (17-3-2, 7-1) lost 1-0 to Golden Valley a month ago. "I had no doubt that we were going to come out today and dominate."
Turlock surged ahead minutes into the match, when Anne Coleman fired a shot into the goal. By the time the first half ended, Turlock was up 3-0.
When Kayla Avila threaded a pass between two fullbacks midway through the second half, and Jasmine Nickelberry sprinted the final 30 yards before scoring, the lead was up to 4-0.
Nickelberry was one of four 'Dogs to score, and three players produced assists. Quite a contrast to last season, when Turlock leaned on Jordan Carlberg (34 goals, 10 assists) in its times of need.
"We don't have the one player like Jordan, but we've got a team of players who attack and defend," said Thompson, who with Carlberg helped the 'Dogs to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I final last year.
"Jasmine, Sara (Latham), Kayla, Chelsea (Davis) ... it's good to have so many players who are skilled with a ball."
In the middle of it is Thompson, whose job is to distribute the ball to the forwards and push the attack upfield.
Like most of the Bulldogs, Thompson has spent years refining her skills in club ball. She's played for the Turlock Tornadoes the last few years, but will play with a Modesto-based Ajax team this season.
It took a while for the Bulldogs' talent to gel, however.
"We've been playing better as a team and it's made all the difference," Thompson said.
Turlock has won seven in a a row since it's shocking loss to GV, outscoring foes 25-4.
"We stress making the routine play every time, not just making a good pass or a good stop, but the best pass and the best stop," said Bishop, in his ninth season at Turlock. "We tell the girls that if they make every routine play, they're going to be very tough to beat."
The strategy is successful.
The Bulldogs are aiming for their fifth consecutive trip to the playoffs, though this year the goal is take that last step.
Last year's stirring postseason run, which included two late-match wins in the preliminary rounds, ended with a 1-0 loss to St. Francis of Sacramento in the section final.
It was as close as Turlock has ever come to a section title, and it's driven this year's group to earn a repeat trip.
"We play a lot of one-touch ball to create a fast pace, but it's harder to control the ball when you're keeping it out in front of you," Thompson said.
"Most of us are playing club ball in the offseason, so we've got high expectations for the way we play. We're a better team than we played Golden Valley last time, and we're going to keep getting better."