October 29, 2008

W. Soccer Defense Continues to Improve

Print More

For a midfield line, seeing its opponent’s attackers changing the momentum and bringing the ball straight at them can be daunting. The midfielders have to be confident that someone has their back. That someone is inevitably the defensive line.
The women’s soccer team’s (2-10-1, 1-4-0 Ivy) defensive line definitely has had some rough games through this long season. In fact, until last weekend, Cornell was on a stretch in which it was giving up better than three goals per game. This past weekend, though, the squad came together and demonstrated its defensive strength as it earned its first Ivy League victory of the season. The 2-0 win Sunday against Brown capped a weekend which saw the Red give up only one goal over two games. Cornell dropped a 1-0 contest to Bryant on Friday night before traveling to Brown.
“Our backs are awesome players and people,” said senior co-captain Whitney Stich. “We have a lot of young talent that will be hard to top in the coming years.”
After losing two center backs this year, the defensive roster came into this season with several fresh, albeit talented, players. Some had not seen much game time last year, others were stepping onto East Hill for the first time. Stich, the lone senior in the bunch, joined junior Emily Kuhn as the two with the most game experience. The responsibility fell on their shoulders to help organize this group and prepare them for the faster pace of Division I soccer.
“Since we have so many new players on the team it took us several games to figure out the best defensive combinations,” said head coach Danielle LaRoche. “Over the past few games, it’s their organization that has kept us in games.”[img_assist|nid=33098|title=Wise sage|desc=Senior Whitney Stich is the sole senior on the Red’s defensive line this year. It has been her duty to help get the young line accutomed to Division I soccer.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Overcoming these adversities has been tough, but with so much of the group never having gone through this experience before, it has been able to grow together.
“I think there is a special bond between all of the defenders on the team. We are one unit and we take pride in everything we do,” said freshman defender Sidra Bonner.
In order to prepare for each game, each defensive player gets mentally ready by absorbing all the information the coaches gather about the opposing forwards. With this information, the team compiles a list of different tricks and tactics to stymie the opposition.
“It’s nice to know things about forwards,” Bonner said, “like if they are technical, good in the air, or fast. … But I try not to overthink things because there is always something different about forwards on the field than on paper.”
Usually, the team practices in three separate groups: forwards, midfielders and defenders. The coaches then work with the defense on the different attack formations and techniques the other team might bring to the table. Afterward, the defense utilizes these new skills in a downsized offense-defense drill, which eventually turns into a full-field scrimmage.
“Unlike last year, we have no one that is ‘the’ leader in the defense,” LaRoche said, referring to defensive, All-Ivy stalwart Leslie Campbell ‘08. “They all step up at various times to lead.”
While the defense is all business on the practice field, the squad preps in a far quirkier manner in the pregame locker room. The team gets pumped by its own inspirational CD, which includes such classics as “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King.
The team saves one song, though, for the walk from the locker room in Bartels Hall to the pitch at Berman Field. “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from Disney’s Mulan is this year’s inspirational song of choice, greeting the team as it walks out to the field. After the national anthem, the squad unites before the matchup begins and each player announces a goal.
Although this rosy picture might appear the defense is all fun and games, the unit has one of the toughest and demanding jobs on the field, as it has to remain attentive and alert with any mistake giving the opponent a scoring chance. In addition, the players have faced many hardships, including injuries, but have pushed through the pain.
“Defenders aren’t allowed as many mistakes or ‘get out of jail free cards’ as forwards,” Bonner said, “Any bad touch or poor pass can end up as a goal.”
Trying to maximize effectiveness and minimize any mistakes, the backfield has to constantly remain in communication with one another, and determine where a mark is or what formation the other team is using. This ability to communicate more efficiently helps guide the organization of the backfield and allow each player to understand her role.
“Playing defense does not have to be that complicated,” said junior Elizabeth Scully. “If you’re holding the right shapes, moving together and communicating, the game is made so much simpler. So those are the things we have really been focusing on improving, and I think we’ve been successful in that.”
This steep learning curve may be due to the fact that both head coach Danielle LaRoche and assistant coach Allison Cowan were both defenders. They naturally stress important defensive elements, such as the different formations of the line at various times, the importance of shifting and stepping together as a unit and how to regroup after an opponent’s goal.
“One of the most difficult things about playing defense is to not let yourselves get down when you get scored on,” Scully said. “A lot of times getting scored on can completely take the momentum out of a team, so this year we’ve really been focusing on re-organizing ourselves after a goal and picking our intensity back up.”
After demonstrating a new breadth of confidence and momentum with the win against Brown, the Red now has higher expectations for the defensive unit in hopes of finishing the remainder of the season on the same high note.