No sport stresses the importance of communication and chemistry quite like the game of soccer.
No timeouts, no huddles and everybody’s spread out. And without communication, especially in the last line of defense, any team will start to sink fast.
In the back line of the Wisconsin women’s soccer team, though, you’ll find that all four players are tuned into the right frequency.
Senior Taryn Francel, junior Meghan Flannery, sophomore Lindsey Johnson and freshman Catie Sessions have formed a strong sense of togetherness that has helped the Badgers keep opponents scoreless and their own offense clicking.
Through their first four games, the Badgers allowed five goals, with all of them coming off of set pieces rather than in the run of play. And in the two games since, the UW defense has tightened their vice on opposing offenses by posting two consecutive shutouts – leaving opponents high and dry for the last 231 minutes of play.
“I think that’s important for them to be a unit and move together,” head coach Paula Wilkins said. “I think that Taryn really has a major role in that, and Flan is kind of growing into that role. They really like to control everyone in front of them, in terms of the midfielders and the forwards. I’m glad we have people willing to talk.
“And I think they’re competitive. In the last couple games, they’ve dove to make blocks and thrown their bodies in front of the ball.”
Led by the upperclassmen Francel and Flannery from the two center positions, the backline has proved to be a solid unit in the team’s efforts to climb out of a slow 1-2-3 start.
In their last match against a dangerous UW-Milwaukee offense, the backline allowed just two shots on goal and displayed their capability of tackling as well as denying the through pass.
But after losing defender and team MVP Whitney Owusu to graduation after the 2009 season, senior goalkeeper Michele Dalton felt slightly nervous about the line in front of her. But with the emergence of Sessions at left back, Dalton feels blessed to have such a sound group watch over her goal.
“Off the field we get along so well, and I think that carries over into the field both in practice and in the games, so I think we just work well naturally,” she said. “That’s hard to come by, and I feel very fortunate to be able to work with the backline in the way that we do. Whitney was a big loss last year, but I think Catie Sessions has stepped into that role phenomenally well – everything seems to be working out.”
Not only has the unit provided a worthy safety net defensively, but they have also been described by Wilkins as the “catalyst” for the offense, each by bringing their own unique skills to the equation.
Flannery, who operates as the team’s corner kick taker, sent in a perfect lob against UW-M that allowed forward Laurie Nosbusch to head it in for the game’s only score. Johnson can make any opponent regret touching the ball last before going out-of-bounds, since her flip throw-in can drop the ball right into the goalmouth.
Francel, a team captain, provides organization and leadership while Sessions, who is repeatedly noted for her speed, has shown to be reliable in advancing the ball downfield through dribbling or passing.
Each defender contributes in their own way to the defense as well.
“You got Catie Sessions and Lindsey Johnson on the outsides, and they bring their speed, and you have Flan and I that play center and bring more background knowledge to the game and anticipating stuff,” Francel said. “Everyone brings their own special quality.”
Dalton, Francel and Sessions all mentioned, though, that the unit’s strengths mainly derive from the confidence each defender holds in one another to hustle back and cover for each other as the offense begins a counterattack.
“I think the reason we’ve been so successful is because we all cover for each other,” Sessions said. “We know we need to have each other’s back, and we’ve really focused on that a lot in practice.”
Francel expanded on that idea by illustrating how the confidence she puts in her teammates can allow her to take on an opposing forward with delight rather than a sense of uneasiness.
“When I have good communication behind me I can just tell that it’s going to be a fun and good tackle,” she said. “You can just kind of feel that you’re going to go into it hard, and I know that they’re behind in case something happens.
“It’s hard when there’s a counterattack and you’re the last defender and they’re running at you – that’s a little scarier – but when you know you have good coverage, you can trust each other.”