Coach Marybeth Freeman continues to raise the bar for her players.
Despite the team’s Top 25 rank among Division I teams in several defensive stats last season—including 4 shutouts—the first-year coach has promoted a fresh approach to the defensive side of the ball since being hired in March.
She has honed in on each player’s on-ball defense, especially the offensive players, teaching fundamental defense in practice and making it a priority of improvement.
“We have been pretty adamant about making [individual defense] a fundamental skill that we need to improve on,” Freeman said. “[The players] have done a good job of listening to the staff’s feedback in implementing that. … But not only with our backs, but also our forwards. Our forwards have the first line of defense, so the way they play really sets the tempo for everyone else behind.”
The Owls said it’s a facet of the game that wasn’t refined as much under former
coach Amanda Janney.
“I definitely noticed that a lot of girls came back in with a lot more game sense in terms of body positioning and individual defense, even with our attackers,” senior forward Alyssa Delp said. “A lot of the time we would come out guns blazing and didn’t really have much control, but I see girls actively thinking: ‘What does my body have to look like? Where do I want to force the ball, how am I going to attack?’ I think girls are using their knowledge a lot more instead of just physical power.”
Freeman wants players to know every position on the field. She said this could improve the squad’s collective defense in terms of rotating, switching and communicating.
“It is refreshing because I see the light bulbs going off, and we see them trying to implement the things that we’re doing,” Freeman said. “We talk a lot about overlapping, interchanging and understanding positional balance in our formations. They’re getting it and we’re seeing it, and then they see it and are actually able to do it, then that creates space for their teammates to run into, get the ball and move up the field efficiently.”
Senior forward/midfielder Erin VanHorn, who has been practicing with the midfielders, forwards and backers, said a refined defensive approach will aid the offensive attack.
“An improved defense will help by getting the ball up to the offense and stopping counter-transitions,” VanHorn said. “Our defense has been joining our forwards, which has been helping us a lot. I think continuing that and having the support of our defense will help us score more goals.”
Regardless of Freeman’s efforts, Saturday’s loss to the University of Maryland, the No. 3 ranked team in the Division I National Field Hockey Coaches Association poll, showed the squad still has a long way to go if it wants to compete for a national championship. Senior forward Tricia Light said the collective team defense needs to improve.
“We had some issues with our transition game,” Light said. “Just not getting rid of the ball quick enough, or trying to go one-on-one against them, instead of working as a unit. … We can’t worry about ourselves individually, we need to worry about ourselves as a unit.”
Matt Cockayne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mattcockayne55.