Friday, December 8, 2023

Spartans get defensive on back line, in net

September 14, 2009

Sophomore goalkeeper Jill Flietstra catches a ball on the side of the net during a Sept, 6 game against Central Michigan at DeMartin Stadium at Old College Field. Flietstra has started all five games of the season so far.

Photo by Angeli Wright | The State News

As Tom Saxton watched film of the No. 11 MSU women’s soccer team this past week, the team’s head coach was extremely disappointed with the way the Spartans lackadaisically attacked the low-pressure defense thrown at them last week by Illinois State.

Concerned that Detroit Mercy — whom the Spartans host at 4 p.m. today at DeMartin Stadium at Old College Field — will play that same type of defense, Saxton made attacking low-pressure defenses the “theme of the day” Monday.

“We have to attack that type of defensive system more efficiently,” Saxton said before Monday’s practice. “(In) the video we’re going to show the kids, there’s a lot of examples of poor decision making when we have time and space.”

Saxton pointed out two areas the Spartans need to improve. The first is players determining which options are available and deciding which decision to make. Saxton said the difference between facing a sagging defense instead of an intense defense can take players out of their element.

“They’re used to teams flying at them all the time and they have an (instinct) to make short decisions,” Saxton said. “Now they’re going, ‘Hmm, what do I do?’”

The second area Saxton planned to address was the players providing those options for one another.

The numbers put up by sophomore forward Laura Heyboer and senior forward Lauren Hill last year undoubtedly have led opposing teams to play this type of defense against MSU. By not only man-marking either Heyboer or Hill, but also by clogging up passing lanes, other teams have been daring others to get involved — something Saxton has been wanting for a while.

“Getting people to move, open up and play the ball quicker. That is a big part of it, I think,” Saxton said of shoring up the offensive attack. “We may have gotten a little bit like, ‘Hey, if we get the ball to Laura or Lo good things will happen.’ Well, we’ve got to have other options.”

Dominant defense

Sophomore goalkeeper Jill Flietstra had high expectations for the MSU defense before this season began, but even she admitted the numbers — or lack thereof — the Spartans have allowed is a bit of a bonus.

The Spartans have posted four shutouts in their first five games, allowing one goal. Flietstra is tops in the Big Ten with a goals against average of 0.19. Ohio State’s Lauren Robertson is next with an average of 0.55.

“Our defense has been playing absolutely amazing,” Flietstra said. “Their communication with our whole team — with our midfield, with our forwards, in terms of people who are open — has been absolutely critical. They’ve been stepping up and really controlling our whole team.”

After only losing one starter from last year, there is a familiarity between Flietstra and the back line. Sophomore defender Katelin Chaklos said she has confidence in Flietstra in net, while the keeper said she feels the same about’ her defense.

Despite her goals against average, Flietstra ranks in the bottom half of the conference in saves, mainly because those in front have been able to shut down opponents. Offensively, the Spartans have put up 74 shots in five games. In comparison, the MSU defense has allowed just 38 opportunities.

Hill, the team’s leading goal scorer, said the defense has been setting the tone for the Spartans through the early part of the season.

“Going off the defense, and I can speak probably for the rest of my team, I think every single game we’ve progressed as our defensive back line has,” Hill said.

Freeman questionable

One reason for the lack of execution against Illinois State might have been the health of junior forward Cara Freeman, who Saxton said has been playing with a sore knee since Sept. 3. Before Monday’s practice, Saxton said Freeman was questionable for today’s game.

Saxton said he would look toward a number of midfielders to fill Freeman’s shoes if she’s unable to go.

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