Syracuse defense continues to thrive despite loss of Hamilton

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on October 16, 2012 at 11:56 pm Contact Josh: [email protected] A freak injury in its season opener left the Syracuse women’s soccer team without its senior captain and starting center back this entire season. Amanda Hamilton injured her knee on a noncontact play against Colgate and hasn’t seen the field since.Even with one of the team’s leaders out, the defensive group has quietly dominated. Jackie Moriarty moved from center midfield to center back, and along with Rachel Blum, has formed a phenomenal center back combination. Blum played center midfield in high school, so the team is essentially playing with two converted center midfielders at the two most important defensive positions.Head coach Phil Wheddon said the pair has been “absolutely amazing,” and with an outside back rotation of Skylar Sabbag, Kayla Afonso and Taylor Haenlin, the defensive group has been “fantastic.”“I think in every contest our defense has been exceptionally solid,” Wheddon said. “I think the decision-making that we’ve had at the back has been great.”Goalkeeper Brittany Anghel gets statistical recognition for the team’s four shutouts and 1.12 goals-against average, but the defense deserves just as much of the credit.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“They’ve been really reliable, especially in the middle of the season,” Anghel said. “We’ve gotten really comfortable with each other … and I think the unit is really cohesive.”While a major theme this season has been the offense’s goal-scoring inconsistency, the defense has kept the team in games. In its four victories that weren’t shutouts, SU has played an average of 41 minutes of scoreless soccer after its opponent scored their last goal, almost an entire half. In the shutout on Sept. 30 against Rutgers, Alyscha Mottershead scored the game-winning goal after more than 102 minutes of scoreless soccer.Sabbag, Afonso and Haenlin all bring unique styles to the group. Sabbag is a reliable, stay-at-home defender, while Afonso isn’t afraid to join the rush and start attacks. Haenlin is a combination of the two and takes many of the team’s sideline throw-ins.Afonso, Blum and Moriarty, as well as Anghel, are all juniors. Wheddon said two weeks ago that he’s lucky to have such an incredible group for another year, but said he’s not sure if he’ll be able to replace them after that.For a freshman like Haenlin, she’s stepped into the experienced and talented lineup almost seamlessly. Haenlin said the older players are great role models and with Hamilton’s injury, she knew she had to step up her play.“With her going down we knew that other people had to step up,” Haenlin said. “It made me take on more of a responsibility. I knew the team would rely on me a little bit more. It made me step my game up and play to the speed of the game.”Earlier this season, when the defense had a healthy group of five or six players, Wheddon used more substitutions, but there has only been one defensive substitution in the last four games.“This year … we have options,” Wheddon said. “Taylor is obviously coming here as a freshman and has done very well. Skylar is very, very reliable and Kayla is an attacking outside back and not someone I would want to face. We have options at the back and different people playing in different positions. For once we have depth and it’s shown all season long.”Playing against Ohio State, Washington and No. 22 Marquette has prepared the Orange defense for postseason play.“I think we’re going to be good,” Moriarty said. “The weekend kind of showed setbacks, but at the same time we kind of needed that to wake us up. We still have things to work on. We’re not perfect.”The defense is obviously not perfect, but with the loss of its leader, it’s certainly stepped up its play and is a big reason for SU’s nine wins.Said Wheddon: “Our defenders are absolutely fantastic and I would take them against anyone in the country.” Commentslast_img

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