Oct. 2, 2013
CHICAGO - Playing defense is a big deal when you suit up for DePaul and women's soccer coach Erin Chastain.
And the results of that thinking are evident this season as the Blue Demons are tied for second in the BIG EAST Conference for fewest goals allowed.
Letting opponents find the back of the net just seven times in 10 matches has helped DePaul build a 6-2-2 record heading into Thursday's BIG EAST clash with Seton Hall (4-5-2, 2-0-0) kicking off at 3 p.m. on Wish Field. DePaul is 0-1-1 in conference.
The Blue Demon defense came together in a hurry with a new goalkeeper in Alex Godinez and new defenders in Brianna Ryce and Nina Kodros.
"Rachel Pitman and I are the only ones back from last year," said Kylie Nordness, an All-BIG EAST Third Team defender in 2012 who is the leader of the back line. "It took us a little while to get situated and to learn about each other.
"In our first game at Valparaiso, we didn't have it together. After that, everything started to click. We learned each other's strengths and how to help each other fix any problems."
After the 1-0 loss at Valparaiso, the defense and an opportunistic offense put together an eight-game undefeated streak that included four shutouts.
"On our team, we try to value defensive play," Chastain said. "Our backs look at shutouts as a big success for the team. Our back line and goalkeeper have an attitude that says you're not going to beat me today.
"Our back line has developed some chemistry over the first half of the season and is carrying it into the BIG EAST season. Kylie is the big leader in the back for us and has the most experience. Rachel gives us a defender with an attacking personality. Brianna is really physical and tough while Nina is another competitor who likes to go forward and does a good job in the box.
"Alex has done a nice job of stepping in and making plays. You want your goalkeeper to make the saves she should and also make some game-changing saves. Alex has absolutely done that.
"You can see a comfort level growing with Alex and the back four."
That cohesion will be put to the test on Thursday against Seton Hall and again on Sunday during a 1 p.m. BIG EAST match against Villanova at Wish Field.
Seton Hall is led by BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Week Kaitlyn Ritter who has six goals and one assist on the season. Ashley Clarke has two goals and six assists as the Pirates are on a three-game winning streak.
Villanova (4-5-2, 1-1-0) features Katie Martin with four goals and eight assists while Reanna Marino and Caroline Brown each have three goals. The last time they met, DePaul went on the road and topped the Wildcats 3-0 in the opening round of the 2012 BIG EAST Championship.
"The key thing to playing good soccer in the back is being really cohesive as a unit" Nordness said. "If I have to step up, Brianna has to drop for me. Nina and Rachel have to pinch in a little bit. Everyone has to pay close attention when a back-line player moves and respond to it.
"Communication is also so important. Our back line is constantly talking as we're tracking runners and defending the ball. By the end of the game, all of us are hoarse from all the screaming.
"From the back, we can see the whole field, and we're always communicating with the midfielders. Playing in the back is also about being tough. You are battling runners, getting in the way and messing things up."
Nordness paused, and a smile crept across her face.
"Getting physical---that's the fun part," she said. "Defenders don't get many chances to score goals, so you have to like bodying people. Who can be feistier?"
Two matches came to mind when talking defense.
"Two of our best defensive games were Georgetown (1-1 tie in double overtime) and Colgate (3-2 win in double OT)," Nordness said. "We knew Georgetown had a really good offense and would keep making slashing runs. We all knew as a team we had to step it up. And, we did the same against Colgate."
Sunday's match is the annual Kicks Against Cancer game where DePaul takes part in a nationwide fundraising initiative to help find a cure for breast cancer in addition to promoting cancer awareness and prevention. The initiative also strives to help women living with cancer to survive and thrive.
The Blue Demons will be wearing pink jerseys, and all proceeds from the game will be donated to the American Cancer Society. There will be an autograph session after the match.