Built from the back: Women’s soccer leans on their defensive line for success
A good defense can keep any team in the game – there are more opportunities to win if they can keep the score low.
This is how UB’s women soccer team (4-4-2, 0-2 MAC) has managed to make all their games competitive. The team has played national powerhouses like Syracuse and West Virginia and has yet to be blown out. They haven’t let up more than two goals in a game this season.
This standard of play can be credited to the team's defensive line. The line contains experience with its two seniors Ashley Evans and Angel Hart but keeps a balance with fresh faces in freshmen Gurjenna Jandu and Adrianna VanCuyck. The defensive effectiveness is credited to trust – not just trust amongst the defensemen, but trust between the line and coach.
“I think our defense can help us play with anyone in the country,” said head coach Shawn Burke. “That is how much I rank what we do defensively. I think they’ll give us a chance any given day.”
Burke, who is in his third year with the Bulls, is vocal about the importance of his defensive line's trust in each other, something he feels only gets better as time goes on. Hart is a key in the defensive lines trust. Burke thinks that she has been an underrated player for years and has now stepped up into a leadership role.
“She understands the system, understands the role each player she is working with has, she is constantly talking to those three,” Burke said.
Evans was also in support of Hart's leadership. She thinks Hart’s experience helped the line and Hart’s actions on the field help with lines to trust each other.
“It’s a new role for me. I am trying to make an impression with the backline because I do have that experience,” Hart said.
Hart is the only player on the defensive line who was a starter last season. To help make that impression, she talks extensively to each player about improvements in both practice and game.
She believes that compared to the start of the season, they have become a stronger unit.
“Each game we have gotten more trust in each other – when a ball gets behind me, I know someone is there to back me up,” Hart said. “It is what makes us play at a really high level. The more trust we have in each other, the better we will play.”
Trust is never something that comes overnight, it must be built. The sooner a team has a reliable starting line, the sooner they can start building trust. Burke looks to build the team's defense before any other unit. Even though changes can be made, he considers it a top priority.
He feels that the best way to build trust is through games. He finds that it needs to be created “organically,” by the team playing more often and doing reps in practice with their unit.
“That is why we want to play teams like Syracuse, West Virginia and Hofstra,” Burke said.
The coach thinks these top programs will challenge his team as they head into conference play. The Bulls played their first conference game on Friday in a 1-0 loss to Ball State and another 1-0 loss to Miami, OH on Sunday.
“We want to be playing in November,” Coach Burke said.
Thomas Zafonte is a staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org