On a perfect day, nobody would need to notice Eben Perkins PO ’11 on the soccer field. It’s only when the Sagehens’ goal is under attack—when they are hunkered down facing corner kick after corner kick—that you can truly appreciate what Perkins, a center-back, does for the team.At 6’5”, he towers above opposing strikers, a Gulliver standing among Lilliputians. As long as the ball is in play, he is yelling directions and encouragement to his teammates. His head is often the first to touch any corner kick. His feet are where attacks come to die and where counterattacks are born. On Nov. 9, SCIAC coaches recognized Perkins by awarding him the SCIAC Player of the Year Award. Perkins is the first Pomona-Pitzer player to receive the award since Scott Coleman win it in 2004, and the first defender since 2005.Even though any good coach knows that defense wins championships, when it comes to awarding individual achievement, defenders have historically been passed over in favor of strikers with gaudy stats and mid-fielders with flashy moves. It’s just a lot easier to quantify the number of goals a player scores or creates than the number of goals he prevents. That makes Perkins’ accomplishment all the more impressive.Perkins has certainly prevented a lot of goals this season. He anchored a Sagehen defense that allowed just eight scores in 16 SCIAC regular-season games and trailed for less than 30 total minutes all year.When asked what he thought when he read the e-mail proclaiming him SCIAC Player of the Year, Perkins just shook his head. “Disbelief, I guess,” he said. “It’s a huge honor. I wasn’t really expecting it. I mean, I know I had a good season, but SCIAC Player of the Year … I didn’t know a defender could even win it.”He was quick to credit his teammates, recognizing that the Sagehens’ stellar defense was really a group effort. While one good striker can score goals and beat defenses alone, a defender is only be as good as his teammates, who are marking one pass away. “This award was for me, but the chemistry in the back—between Alec [Larson PO ’11], [Zack] Mirman [PO ’11], [Erik] Munzer [PI ’12], [Sean] Wales [PO ’11] sometimes, and Rollie [Thayer PO ’13] too—it really helped,” Perkins said. “Alec and I have been playing center back together for three years now, so we each know what the other one is going to do. It’s almost like a sixth sense.”Perkins has certainly developed a lot as a player in order to win his latest award. An All-State soccer player at Westbrook High School in Maine, Perkins still intended to play tennis rather than soccer as a Pomona freshman. During orientation week, however, he made the abrupt decision to hang up his tennis racket and put on some cleats and shin guards.Things were rocky in the beginning. During his freshman year, the Sagehens went 5-12-1 and finished 6th in SCIAC. “It was a shock beginning to play college soccer,” Perkins said. “The game’s a lot faster, and that took some time to get used to.”The 2007 team was plagued by injuries, most notably to then-senior stars David Roy PO ‘08 and Warren Doyle PO ‘08. Perkins was one of four freshmen thrown into the starting lineup, but by the end of the season had distinguished himself enough to be named to the All-SCIAC Second Team. The experience at the bottom of the conference helped motivate the Sagehens to work even harder for success. In 2008, they went on an improbable run at the end of the season and found themselves playing against the eight-time defending champs Redlands in the SCIAC finals. Though they eventually lost to Redlands in overtime, it was clear to everyone in the conference that the Sagehens were back with a vengeance. Perkins wound up on the All-SCIAC First Team.“A big difference this year was the seniors,” Perkins said. “It wasn’t really that we had one guy you could point to as the leader, we just had an unbelievable core of leadership. I mean, Charlie [Balter PO ’10] and [Andrew] Stamm [PO ’10] were hurt and they still came to practice every day and set a great example. It was more of a group thing, and it’s been like that for the past two years.”“I guess you could say that I hit the weight room, too,” Perkins joked. “But I’m not that strong of a guy.”Perkins is unduly modest when it comes to his physique, but he doesn’t hesitate to speak ambitiously when it comes to his goals for next year. In 2010, the Sagehens will return their entire defensive unit, and Perkins is already smiling with anticipation.“I’m already really pumped for next year,” Perkins said. “Alec and I were kind of half-joking around about not letting in any goals during SCIAC games. I mean, I know that realistically won’t ever happen, but we can always try to do better.”When he starts to talk about what the team can accomplish next year, his eyes light up. “In order, we want to win the SCIAC tournament, the SCIAC title, and the Golden Boot. Playing in the NCAA tournament would be so …” Perkins pauses, “It’s always been the driving goal.”As for his off-season plans, the newly crowned SCIAC Player of the Year is studying abroad in South Africa next semester. He plans to stay there for the World Cup next June.“I’m just excited to be going there while it’s going on,” he said. “It’s going to be the biggest party on the planet.”Perkins, whose love for the game of soccer has led him from Maine to Claremont and now to the upper echelons of SCIAC, should fit right in.