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Despite injuries, North Texas soccer remaining stout defensively

Despite injuries, North Texas soccer remaining stout defensively

North Texas junior midfielder Tori Phillips (24) runs upfield after a turnover against Texas Southern University on September 9. Dylan Nadwodny

Despite injuries, North Texas soccer remaining stout defensively
October 19
10:14 2016

Over the course of 15 games this year, Mean Green soccer’s forwards and midfielders have hoisted up over 200 shots. Twenty-eight have been goals, and have altered the trajectory of several matches.

While the offense fills the seats and puts points on the scoreboard, to paraphrase hall of fame college football coach Bear Bryant, defense is the reason North Texas remains in contention for another Conference USA championship.

Sitting on a 10-4-1 record, the Mean Green have had flexibility and depth at the four defender positions and at goalkeeper. While some changes have come out of necessity, as sophomore keeper Brooke Bradley and senior center back Alexsis Cable are out with injuries, the defense has managed to remain stout all year long.

“We’ve done a good job of running the back line regardless of who we put there,” head coach John Hedlund said. “Tori [Phillips] has stepped in and done a good job, [Carissa Sanders] is a force in the middle. We’ve got a ton of speed back there and it’s really helped us against speedy forwards.”

As a former professional defender himself, Hedlund understands the intricacies of a good defense. This, along with 21 years of head coaching experience, make him an extremely knowledgeable defense-first coach.

The Mean Green have allowed 0.92 goals per game this year. This would be the seventh time in the last eight seasons that Hedlund’s team finished the year with a goal allowed average under one.

His attitude has trickled down to the assistant coaches and players, and now everyone has the same approach.

“Shutouts are our mindset,” junior defender Tori Phillips said bluntly. “If we do our job, then our forwards will do their job. Even if we only get one in the back of the net, we win.”

Phillips was thrust into the starting lineup four games ago to replace Cable. During her freshman year, Phillips started 13 games at center back on a defense that allowed merely 0.53 goals per game.

While Phillips has experience starting at the collegiate level, freshman goalkeeper Miranda Schoening started her first game just two and a half weeks ago. These two changes have understandably taken some getting used to, but North Texas seemingly has not missed a beat.

The Mean Green is 3-1 and has allowed four goals over its past four matches.

“Tori is an athlete,” assistant coach Daniel Dobson said. “She is a good, athletic player that has to be on the field somewhere, whether it’s midfield or center back, we trust her to get the job done.”

As a unit, the defense has put up above-average numbers in 2016. North Texas is in the top-23 percent in the country in goals allowed average, top-27 percent in shutouts per game, and top-22 percent in save percentage. The Mean Green has also held its opponents to a 42 percent shot on goal average. Meanwhile, 50 percent of North Texas’ shots are inside the frame.

That eight percent difference may sound trivial, but it makes a huge difference in games that come down to the wire.

“We just communicate really well,” freshman defender Madeline Guderian said. “We’ve got a lot better at that since the beginning of the year. And [Hedlund] likes us playing balls down the line and over the top, and I think we’re starting to get really good at that.

The ability to communicate on defense is necessary as the four defenders spread out over the width of the field.

Sophomore defender Carissa Sanders has started every game this season at center back and now has a different partner in the middle. The transition is eased when the two talk, and often yell instructions at one another during games.

“It just helps us not get beat,” Sanders said. “It can be difficult because when you’re tired and telling your teammate where to go or who to mark, you can barely get the words out, so I’m not saying as much as I was at the beginning of the game which doesn’t help.”

At the start of the year, depth was the one of North Texas’ greatest strengths. Even though the rotations have been slightly trimmed, the defense remains flexible. This is especially the case at the outside back positions as Hedlund typically rotates four player in and out.

“I think [the depth] helps us a lot,” Guderian said. “[We can] stay fresh and keep the starters good for the next game that we have. It’s nice to have depth so we can all get some time in [the game].

Beginning November 2 in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Mean Green will play win-or-go-home games in the C-USA tournament with an NCAA tournament berth on the line. Entering as one of the favorites will force the defense to be near perfect.

But that is what this team has come to expect, and players and coaches alike all understand what they need to do in order to reach their goal.

“Play mistake free,” Dobson said. “[If we] play the way [we] know how to play and eliminate the simple mistakes, we’ll be fine.”

Featured Image: North Texas junior midfielder Tori Phillips (24) runs upfield after a turnover against Texas Southern University on September 9. Dylan Nadwodny

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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