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Fresh off a split weekend against out-of-conference competition, Cornell women’s soccer will take on Maine this Saturday, looking to shore up some weaknesses in its final tune-up game before Ivy League play begins the following weekend.
Specifically, the Red will look to increase focus on locking down opposing players inside its own 18-yard box because “soccer games, it has been said, are won and lost inside the penalty areas,” said head coach Dwight Hornibrook.
“We have to do a much better job with defensive concentration and marking in our own penalty area,” added senior co-captain and defender Kaylee Fitzgerald. “We need to be more cohesive and on the same page: pressuring them together, stepping together and defending as a unit rather than an individual.”
Much like the how the team seeks improvement in its penalty area, the Red wants to also see change in that same area on the other end of the pitch. Cornell sits at less than a goal per game pace, being outscored 9-3 through four games.
Part of that development, sophomore forward Kennedy Yearby said, can only come with ball security and limiting turnovers.
“We need to stay more composed. When we get the ball, we win it [and] then give it away right after,” said Yearby, who lifted the Red over Buffalo last Friday with her winner early in the overtime period. “I think we need to get better at moving the ball. When we do that we play better. It’s less running and less defending.”
Cornell saw some progress this previous weekend, notching its first win under first-year head coach Hornibrook in a 2-1 OT decision over Buffalo. The win also served as his first as a head coach at the Division I level.
But with Ivy play looming, Maine serves as a final opportunity for both in-game experience and adjustments before an important stretch of play begins.
Since its ascension to the Division I level in 1982, Cornell has only seen Maine once before. That matchup, on Sept. 21, 2008, ended in a 2-0 loss for the Red, a game Hornibrook is more than familiar with.
“I was actually at that game in 2008 and the Maine coach is a good friend of mine,” Hornibrook said. “I know a little bit about them and about how [their coach] likes to have his teams play.”
Despite the familiarity, Hornibrook knows it’s his team he has to worry about most for gameday.
“I will watch some film, do a scouting report,” he said, “but my focus is on our team. We need to take care of the stuff we do well and fix the things that haven’t been going so well.”
Despite knowing his own team’s shortcomings, Hornibrook and his squad are excited for the rest of the season. Both he and his players are optimistic about the progressions they have made throughout training sessions and the games leading up to Ivy League play.
Hornibrook has described a new culture surrounding the team this year — one of exhilaration and positivity coupled with strong work ethic. He explained that the players come to practice each day excited and ready to play.
“We work really hard,” Yearby agreed. “Our team is very competitive, we all push each other.”
“We’ve improved our work ethic over the past couple years,” Fitzgerald added. “We have a much better team dynamic this year in the sense that we’re willing to work for each other.”
Kickoff against Maine is set for 1 p.m. this Saturday at Berman Field.
“It’s big for us to show up on our home field and compete … and own our home field,” Fitzgerald said.