Iowa soccer finding success in the air


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Being good in the air is a term that is thrown around a lot in soccer. But what exactly does it mean to be good in the air?

Just about every aspect of soccer has a statistic to back it up, but that’s not the case with the air game. Often, the claim of being good in the air comes down to the judgment of those who know and play the game.

“It’s positioning your body and getting a matchup so that your winning lots of goal kicks and punts,” Iowa head coach Ron Rainey said. “Either flicking them on offensively or winning them outright defensively.”

Being good in the air affects both the offensive side of the ball and the defensive. Winning the battle to the ball can often put a team in a position to score or stunt an opponent’s attack long enough to receive help defenders or prep for a counter-attack of your own.

A key area this happens on is moments of restart. These moments are something that the Hawkeyes have had major success with this season. Of their 19 total team goals, five of them have come from a free kick goal or assist. The Hawks have only given up 1 goal from a free kick.

“We work on it a lot during practice and it’s what we look to in order to finish our chances,” junior Anne Marie Thomas said.

But how does a team practice being good in the air? Often it comes down to repetition and a few drills with the emphasis on the air game.

“If you have a heavy heading day, you can take some air out of the ball and work on your footwork when there are people around you to get onto the ball,” Rainey said. “And then also working on the technique of keeping your head and neck nice and steady and snapping through the ball and generating power through your waist.”

Being good in the air isn’t always as simple as heading the ball towards a teammate. Almost every in-air opportunity comes with an opponent right on your hip. To some, winning these battles is what makes a team good in the air.

“I think a lot of players on our team do well with that, Alex [Melin], Anne Marie, and Melanie [Pickert],” junior Caitlin Brown said. “A lot of times it means wanting to win that ball more than the other person. As well as having good timing.”

Gaining possession of these types of balls can also come down to a player’s communication with their teammates.

“It’s really just communication,” Brown said. “Communicating with each other who’s going to go up for that ball and then the other defenders need to pinch in and drop behind in case there is a flick on or in case we misjudge it.”

The Hawks will likely look to capitalize on their air game when they head on the road to take on No. 23 Nebraska on Oct. 3. The game is slated to begin at 4 p.m.

Nebraska comes into the game with an 8-2-1 record and a 3-0-0 record in the Big Ten. The Hawks will look to build off of their last game against Northwestern where Iowa picked up their first Big Ten win of the season, pushing their overall record to 9-2-0 and their conference record to 1-2-0.

“We’re at the point in the season where we’re fine tuning everything we do offensively and defensively,” Rainey said. “We just have to be ready to anything Nebraska does but in the big picture, do what we do well.”

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