BRADENTON -- Until this past season, Maria Miller's role with the Lakewood Ranch girls soccer team was to roam the middle of the park.
But the Mustangs needed someone to fill the gaps vacated by departing seniors in the back line.
So Miller switched positions for her senior season.
Going from midfielder to defender was a big change. But with Miller's talents, it became seamless.
Because she was the key component in a Mustangs defense that racked up 15 regular season clean sheets, including 11 in a row to close out the year, Miller is the 2015 Herald All-Area Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
"How did I win? It's usually all these forwards who are scoring all these goals," the center back said. "It's an honor."
Miller, though, could have lost her soccer career a couple years ago. In her sophomore season, Miller tore several ligaments in her ankle.
"I had to push myself harder and had to practice much more than I was usually practicing to get back," Miller said.
And she did return by her junior season.
But then she switched positions this past year for both high school and club, and she has thrived.
"I always knew there was another line of people, so I didn't feel the pressure," said Miller about playing midfield compared to defense. "If I lost the ball, I knew they had my back. But I like the pressure that defense gives you. I like that you have to get a tackle in, you have to be there. You are that last line of defense and the only one protecting your keeper."
Miller, a co-captain, paved the way for the Mustangs to peel off an impressive 18-0-2 regular season.
"She distributes the ball, hard-nosed individual (and) she's got control," Lakewood Ranch boys head coach Guy Virgilio said.
However, the Mustangs fell short of their state championship dreams when they fell to Venice in the region semifinals. It was the second straight time Ranch lost to the Indians, who blanked the Mustangs 4-0 in the district title game as well.
"I think the first time we played Venice, we went out and destroyed them," Miller said. "I think that got in our heads that we were much better than them. And when we had to go out and play, we didn't have to play that hard. When we did face them and they came out to play and ended up beating us, that shell-shocked us."
Miller's career, though, doesn't end with that stinging defeat to Venice. She's heading off to play collegiately at Saint Leo University.
She'll do so with a year's worth of experience defending.