Chemistry helps Mavs’ back line thwart opponents’ attacks
They might laugh about having one another’s backs, but when it comes right down to it, the back line defenders on the Colorado Mesa University women’s soccer team are all about having their teammates’ backs.
The Mavericks (5-4-0, 4-1-0 RMAC) have given up 10 goals this season, and by coach Erin Sharpe’s calculations, only two have been during the flow of the game. The other eight have come off set pieces, such as corner kicks or free kicks.
When opponents are attacking from the midfield up, though, they just keep getting turned away.
“When you have a back line you have to know how each other plays,” sophomore Leilani Wiernicki said. “You can’t really explain your every movement. In part of the field, you automatically have to think, ‘JK’s going, so I have to do something.’ ‘’
Wiernicki and JK — junior Jessica Kent — handle the center back positions, with freshman Amanda Harryman rotating in. On the outside are sophomores Sam Burneo and Lauren Brouse.
The four starters all got plenty of playing time last season, and said the chemistry on this year’s squad has improved, which has led to the quick start in conference play.
“I think we’re mostly on the same page together,” Kent said. “It’s pretty easy to work off each other.”
Burneo, who plays right back, and Brouse, the left back, are counted upon to challenge would-be scorers, with the center backs directing traffic and helping protect the goal.
“We want to get up and attack and get more numbers (in the offensive attack) but we don’t want to leave our center backs behind,” Burneo said.
The Mavericks play at CSU-Pueblo (4-5-0, 1-3-0) on Friday afternoon, then have a rematch with No. 7 Fort Lewis at 1 p.m. Sunday at Walker Field. Fort Lewis (8-0-1, 5-0-0) is ranked first in the Central Region; Colorado Mesa is eighth. Fort Lewis held on for a 2-1 win over the Mavs last week in Durango.
Sharpe said few coaches will substitute on defense, but she doesn’t hesitate sending Harryman into the game.
That way, Wiernicki can slide up to a midfield position and the defense is still in good shape. Wiernicki has scored one goal and has two assists so far, taking nine shots. Burneo and Kent have each taken two shots.
Just like the defense, the offense has grown up since last season. The Mavericks struggled to find the back of the net in 2010, scoring only 17 goals. After a slow start this season, the offense is starting to click and has already scored 13 goals.
“Last year we had a really good defense as well,” Burneo said. “It’s helping a lot that our offense is starting to hold the ball more and scoring, and taking a little slack off our backs so we can have a little resting period.
“We’ve all come together and no one’s letting anything through. We’re doing anything possible not to let any (goals) in.”
The one problem the Mavs have had this fall is allowing goals off corners and free kicks.
“We don’t even know what it is,” Brouse said. “We’ve been trying to figure out what it is.”
They spent quite a bit of time at practice Tuesday defending corners, and they say it’s a matter of becoming more aggressive when the ball is in the air.
“Sometimes we’re a little hesitant to jump up and get a head on it,” Harryman said. “But we’re working on it. We’ll get it done.”
The biggest challenge for the defenders is making sure the goalie isn’t left one-on-one with a striker.
“It’s really important, your positioning in that position,” Wiernicki said. “You have to be on at all times in the game. One breakdown can be a goal.”
“Knowing you’re the last person,” Kent said, “if they get past you…”
“That’s not good,” Wiernicki said.