North Texas Daily

Defense-first approach pays dividends for soccer team

Defense-first approach pays dividends for soccer team

Meagan Sullivan | Senior Staff Photographer

Defense-first approach pays dividends for soccer team
October 08
21:03 2015

Clay Massey | Staff Writer


The old adage “defense wins championships” is certainly something the University of North Texas soccer team believes in.

In 13 matches, the Mean Green have only given up six goals. The normal starting group for the Mean Green is anchored in the center by two senior centerbacks, Molly Grisham and Tess Graham. The flanks are covered by freshman Carissa Sanders and sophomore Chelsei Soto. Soto is a converted forward but is enjoying the second year in her new position.

“I love it,” said Soto. “I can go up when I want, and I can stay back when I want. I can always be in the play because I have the speed to do so.”

Soto has adjusted well to the left back position since moving to North Texas after graduating from Lewisville High School in 2013. Soto was a key cog in a North Texas defense that also had success in shutting down opposing strikers last year, only allowing four goals in conference play.

Head coach John Hedlund has a big part to play in his defense keeping goals to a minimum. Being a self-proclaimed “defense first” coach, Hedlund is a firm believer in not letting opponents score at all.

“I grew up being a defender myself, playing that role,” said Hedlund. “To me, that old saying ‘defense wins championships,’ I believe in it. Especially on the road, you have to have the defense first. The girls have that mindset, and we attack out of that.”

Being a former defender has helped Hedlund shape the way he coaches his defense. Developing a defense first system is something Hedlund has used to shape the program over his 21 seasons in coach of the Mean Green.

“It’s kind of our system of play of putting defense first,” said Hedlund. “Even our two defensive mids drop in and we always have six behind the ball. We have a tendency to give up very few goals. If you can beat one of our six, you still have one of the top goal keepers to beat.”

The goalkeeper, redshirt senior Jackie Kerestine, frequently credits the defense in front of her. Playing the role of communicator in the back, Kerestine is very vocal with her defense in directing them.

Kerestine and her communication with the defense are partly why the Mean Green is tied for seventh in the nation in shutout percentage at 0.692% with nine shutouts.

“I love having them in front of me,” said Kerestine. “They’re great. They’re all on the same page, very hard-working and coachable. They don’t want to give up a goal just as bad as I do. It makes it a lot easier when I can tell them do something and I don’t have to keep on about it.”

One player at the heart of the defense is Grisham. The senior has made 69 career appearances for the Mean Green and plays the left side of the senior center back pair. A co-captain of the team, Grisham is a communicator for the defense and prides herself and her defense on shutouts.

“It’s not enough just to win a game,” said Grisham. “We want to get shutouts every game. That’s our main goal. We’re really disciplined and we’re on the same page as well.”

The four in the backline are serious on the pitch while trying to achieve their goal of a shutout, and that is in part of keeping it light off the pitch with each other.

“There’s always a lot of communication because we have to cover each other and we’re the last line of defense,” said Grisham. “But really close off the field too. We’re like the little unit.”

Featured Image: File Photo

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