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Defense strong for Hawkeye soccer

BY BEN WOLFSON | SEPTEMBER 13, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa soccer team’s starting defensive unit has only one holdover from last season, senior Rachel Blakesley.

The rest of the defense is composed of senior Morgan Showalter, who switched from the midfield to outside defensive back, and two freshmen — Melanie Pickert and Katie Brown.

The statistics speak for themselves. In seven nonconference games, the Iowa soccer team is 7-0-0 for the first time in program history, and it has allowed only five goals on the year. The Hawkeyes posted two shutouts, against DePaul (3-0) on Aug. 19 and against South Dakota (5-0) on Sunday.

“Our two freshmen who have come into the back have really stepped up to play that role of the two center-backs,” Showalter said. “We’ve learned how to play with each other. The two new people in the middle have really helped us with assuming our shape — and [they’ve] learned the way to play college soccer, because it’s a big difference from high school.”

The defensive formation employed by the Hawkeyes is a flat-back four set, which means there are four players on the back line: two outside-backs and two center-backs.

“As a team, we really talk about getting behind the ball and being willing to work back if we lose the ball,” Blakesley said. “We’re just trying to work together as a team and close the gaps, while putting teams in uncomfortable situations.”

When the opposing team has possession in the Hawkeyes’ zone, the defense shifts in a line from side-to-side without having its players cross over each other. Which defender is called upon to step up and make a play depends on where the ball happens to be in the Iowa back-third of the field.

The defense benefits from on-field instructions shouted by senior goalkeeper Emily Moran, the Hawkeyes’ all-time leader in wins. Moran can see the entire field from her position, and she tells her defenders to either set their position and challenge the attacker or drop back toward the goal to prevent a long ball from creating a scoring chance for the opposition.

“One of my biggest jobs is to be able to communicate and organize,” Moran said. “We take pride working together as a team and working together as a back-four. The three who have come in have done very well acclimating themselves to the position, and that’s helped our team keep the ball out of the net.”

Even though the Hawkeyes recorded a shutout and only allowed five shots on goal in their 5-0 win over South Dakota, the defense was unsatisfied with how it played as a whole.

“I look back, and I think the game we played against Iowa State [a 4-1 win on Sept. 9] is how we want to defend,” head coach Ron Rainey said. “We were at times keeping possession of the ball and at times playing balls out when we were under pressure.”

Rainey did spot a positive against Coyotes, though, and said he hopes it will continue in the near future.

“People used their athleticism to get to spots before South Dakota would, and they were able to minimize chances,” he said. “When we play against Northern Iowa [on Wednesday], we want to keep minimizing those chances.”


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