By Greg DeVries
Defense wins championships. The cliché has been around awhile.
It’s what coaches tell their players from the days of halftime snacks all the way up to the professional level.
NCAA.com ranks the Baylor women’s soccer team No. 25 in the country, and defense has been one of the keys to its success.
The Bears’ lineup has been in a state of flux during the non-conference games, but senior Carlie Davis, junior Selby Polley and junior Taylor Heatherly have all started every game at defensive positions.
The defense has given up four goals in 10 games, which is good for the nation’s eighth best goals-against average.
Baylor has recorded seven shutouts this season, which is second only to No. 8 Virginia Tech.
The defense may be skilled, but its style of play is different than almost every other teams’s.
“We play with a sweeper, so we always have a free person in the back,” Davis said. “Instead of playing a flat-back, where you let the forwards switch around… everybody has a mark on the back line ,and you follow that person wherever they go.”
Marking opposing attackers instead of switching is just another way to keep the pressure high.
“The forwards have no time or space to make anything happen,” Polley said. “In a flat-back, if a player gets beat, then there is nobody behind them. It’s just them and the goalie. If Carlie or I get beat, then Taylor [Heatherly] is there to cover for us.”
Baylor plays high-pressure defense all over the field.
Its in-your-face style has resulted in 23.2 shots per game while only giving up 5.1 shots per game.
“The defense is more than just the back line and the keeper,” Davis said. “Everybody plays really good team defense. Our forwards start our pressure… It starts with the forwards. The midfielders do a great job of being tight too, and then it’s just our job in the back to clean up any of the mess that gets through.”
Aside from the goalkeeper, Heatherly is the last player that opposing teams have to get by.
She is also the one to push everybody up and take free kicks from around midfield.
Two of her free kicks have resulted in assists to junior midfielder Kat Ludlow and senior forward Dana Larsen, but her primary job is to protect the goal.
“Everybody is going to make a mistake, so that’s where I come in,” Heatherly said. “I clean up everybody’s mistakes, but they don’t really make any. They make my job very, very easy because everybody plays so well together.”
Marking attackers and staying in position requires a lot of communication.
This unit has been successful partly because of its skill, but mostly because it plays as a unit with good chemistry.
“Carlie, Taylor and I have played together for two years,” Polley said. “[Head coach Marci Jobson] gets on to us about verbally communicating, even if we know what’s going to happen, but being so close on and off the field really does make a difference. I can count on them. I completely trust those two.”