Defense a big reason for women’s soccer’s playoff appearance

Published by adviser, Author: Oscar Matous - Rocket Contributor, Date: October 30, 2017
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The Slippery Rock University women’s soccer team has concluded their 2017 regular season and now look to enter the first round of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) playoffs.

Rock head coach Jessica Griggs has repeatedly said that her team would not be where they are this season without the performances from the defensive unit, and in particular junior goalie Kylie Downs. Throughout the entire regular season, Downs gave up no more than two goals a game and recorded seven shutouts, good for second among all goalies in the PSAC. She also finished fourth in the PSAC with .733 goals against average percentage and seventh in saves with a .848 save percentage.

Downs took over as starting goalie for The Rock prior to the 2016 season when she replaced Charlotte Elrod, who was out for a majority of the season with a knee injury. With Elrod transferring to Mount Saint Mary’s University this year, Downs took over as the full-time goalie.

Downs said that there have been some major changes in her confidence in net for the Green and White this year versus last year.

“Last year I was like real nervous to come in and make some rookie mistakes,” Downs said. “This year I am closer with the seniors and have more confidence in my team. I am glad I have trust on the field with everyone.”

Downs said that a major part of why she was effective in net for The Rock was because of the communication between her and the backline.

“With some freshmen in our backline it was trying to break them out of their shells that would end up helping us defensively,” Downs said. “It was about talking to them and wanting them to ‘like us’ because they would have to trust us real quick. So, communication and opening up with one another was key to us being successful defensively this year.”

The women had a goal at the beginning of the season to not give up more than one goal a game, senior Haley Burkholder said. Burkholder, the team captain, and leader of the defense, said the organization at the beginning of the year has been “key” to why the defense has been strong this season. Burkholder agreed with Downs and attributed a large part of the success of the defense to the backline of defense.

“Anyone who goes into the backline is disciplined,” said Burkholder, who has started all 57 games of her collegiate career. “They know that any stupid mistakes will end up in us paying for it because we are the last line of defense.”

Coach Griggs has said numerous times this year that the dynamic her team has on and off the field has contributed to her team’s success as a whole. Burkholder and Downs said that that is especially true for the defense.

Senior Tess Keeley highlighted that a large part of why the women have been successful this year is because of the friendship they have made together.

“I think we can actually thank a lot of our success for actually getting along on and off the field,” said Keeley, with a smile.

The Green and White will hope to see their defense remain strong heading into Tuesday’s playoff match against East Stroudsburg University Warriors (ESU), the PSAC championship for the last three seasons. The Rock lost to ESU last year in the first round of the playoffs with a final score of 5-0. The women also lost the matchup with the Warriors this year by a score of 1-0.

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