Senior forward Paige DeLoach runs over a Binghamton player during the Red's game against Binghamton on Sept. 10th, 2017.

Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Senior forward Paige DeLoach runs over a Binghamton player during the Red's game against Binghamton on Sept. 10th, 2017.

October 17, 2017

Women’s Soccer Looks to Dominant Defense as Positive Sign Going Forward

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The 2017 season has been a year of change for the Cornell women’s soccer team with the introduction of Dwight Hornibrook as the head coach. Despite the shift in leadership, the team has been plagued this season by the same debilitating flaw it suffered from last year: an inability to light up the scoreboard.

“It’s just been a season — and last season too — where we’ve had a really tough time finding the back of the net,” Hornibook said. “It’s very frustrating because there’ve been games when we could’ve, should’ve, and didn’t. Last year was very similar, and then in the final game of the season, we scored four. It’s strange, very strange.”

The Red (2-6-3, 0-2-1 Ivy) has scored zero goals in four of its past five games, including 0-0 draws in its past three away games.

Defensively, the team is a powerhouse, with junior goalkeeper Meghan Kennedy relentlessly blockading the net and senior captains Kaylee Fitzgerald and Whitney Farber holding down the backline. This defensive strength makes the Red hard to beat, but what it lacks offensively makes it hard to lose to — thus, the 0-0 draws.

“I think right now we’re a very strong opponent, and that’s what we’ve got to count on each week: that we’re going to show up and make it difficult for other teams,” Hornibrook said. “And scoring an elusive goal every now and then would be really nice.”

While eager to see his offensive line create more scoring opportunities, Hornibrook is always careful not to put too much pressure on his athletes to score.

“Everybody’s trying, you know, and what I don’t want them to do is try too hard because then everyone feels a lot of pressure and nobody wants to shoot,” he said.

The defense has been the biggest bright spot for Cornell so far in 2017.

Michael Wenye Li / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

The defense has been the biggest bright spot for Cornell so far in 2017.

That kind of pressure plagued the team last year. It scored zero goals in the majority of games, before finally breaking out of its funk in the final game of the season with a 4-1 victory over Dartmouth on senior day.

The team will celebrate this season’s eight graduating players on Saturday when it faces Brown at home on Berman Field. After Brown, Cornell will face Princeton and then once again end the season against Dartmouth, which the team hopes comes with a similarly dominant result.

“We still have three Ivy League games and we want to finish strong,” said senior midfielder Kat Weikert. “The seniors are really taking advantage of their final opportunities to step on the field. The game this weekend against Brown is our last match at Berman field, so it’ll definitely be sentimental. It will be extra special with all the homecoming activities and getting to see some of the alumni.”

While Saturday will be a fun day for the seniors, Hornibrook is keeping his players focused on sharpening up their game this week, as they head into the final stretch of the season. Training will continue at full intensity, with an emphasis on simulating game-time levels of pressure during practice, so the team is prepared to execute while the clock is running.

“In our preparation this week we talked a lot about the last pass, and just composure, because that’s what goal-scorers have — they’re composed,” he said. “We haven’t been able to crack that.”

Hornibrook and the Red are hoping to execute the kind of breakout performance the team had in its final game of last season as it takes the field this weekend against Brown for the final home game of the season.

The team hopes this season will continue to be one of positive change, and that it will break its scoring drought with three conference games left in the season, rather than just one.

“I want to go 3-0 at the end of the year,” Hornibrook said. “I want to climb up the Ivy League standings, and I want us to set a standard so that future teams at Cornell will say, ‘Ok, this is what we have to achieve.’”