When two of his starting defenders graduated, Kansas University soccer coach Mark Francis figured an ideal replacement would be a woman who didn't even play high school soccer last season.
Francis apparently knew what he was doing when he tapped Holly Gault, a freshman from Spring Hill, to fill one of the gaps. Gault has started the last five games and was selected to the all-tourney team at last weekend's Crimson and Blue Invitational.
"I knew she was really good," Francis said. "She's just tough, she's really tough. I would not want to play against her."
Gault will start her sixth game today when the Jayhawks make a two-game swing to California. KU (6-1) will meet San Diego U. (4-0-1) at 9 p.m. today and Loyola-Marymount (3-1-2) at 3 p.m. Sunday.
This weekend will give the Jayhawks their last test before they begin Big 12 play against Baylor next Friday at SuperTarget Field.
While Kansas won't have a lot of down time this weekend, Francis said his team would go to the beach -- which should be a welcome sight for California native Lauren Williams, who hails from Laguna Niguel.
"We'll have a little time to do some fun stuff," Francis said. "Lauren will have a chance to play in front of her family and friends, and she knows a little about both of these teams.
"It's going to be a tough test, but it should be good preparation for us before conference play begins."
While Spring Hill High doesn't have varsity soccer, Gault -- who played on a state-championship basketball team and was a two-time all-state shortstop in softball for the Broncos -- made a name for herself in the club soccer circuit during high school.
Gault helped lead the KCFC Alliance Metro Blues to six state championships in six years. She also spent two years as the youngest member of the Kansas City Mystics, a semi-pro team.
"That was an experience of a lifetime, being 16 years old and playing with people on the national team," Gault said. "Even though I didn't play the first year, just practicing with people like that made me that much better."
While Gault caught the eye of Francis as a forward who dominated on the dribble and possessed a powerful shot, Francis also saw that Gault's skills were refined enough to become a reliable defensive stopper.
She embraced the change, learned quickly, and earned a starting spot by the third game.
What Gault lacks in experience she has made up for with athleticism. Rarely does a forward get a breakaway against Gault because she has exceptional recovery speed and understands how to use her body to shield opposing forwards from the ball.
"Holly's an animal," junior goalkeeper Meghan Miller said. "She goes out there and runs through people. She doesn't really care what's going on, she's going to get the ball."
Gault's ability to learn on the fly is a major reason Kansas has surrendered just six goals in seven games and is on pace to record its best defensive numbers ever.
But Gault said she realized it was much too early to start talking about records.
"Definitely a bid to the NCAA (tournament), and hopefully win a couple of games there," she said of her expectations. "The Elite Eight is our high goal. We definitely have the talent and the heart."