Defense acts as catalyst for women’s soccer success

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Kent State junior defender Paige Culver (#10) battles for the ball against Eastern Michigan on Sept. 23, 2017.

Cameron Hoover

The Kent State women’s soccer team has shut out 10 opponents this season.

Only one other team in the Mid-American Conference — Bowling Green — has even won 10 games.

The Flashes haven’t given up more than one goal in a game since September, and they have shut out four straight conference opponents.

That defense has made the team the best in the MAC as the Flashes prepare for their final three games of the regular season, all at home.

“The way we win games is by keeping goals out of our net,” said Paige Culver, a junior defender and midfielder. “Yeah, we don’t get all the glory the strikers get for scoring goals. But if we’re doing our job, that’s a reward in itself.”

Coach Rob Marinaro said the defense meshes so well together because of the attention given to that side of the ball during practice.

“It’s something that we always focus in on,” Marinaro said, now in his 17th season as the head coach of the team. “We try to limit what the other team can do and take away some of their strengths. It’s the commitment of digging in, battling and outworking the other team, especially defensively, that’s crucial.”

That back four typically consists of senior Jamie Eiben, Culver and sophomores Sierra Henderson-Muschett and Amanda Reed.

Henderson-Muschett said the defense’s chemistry and experience together allows them to be so successful.

“Our experience and our communication has been what’s helped us this year,” Henderson-Muschett said. “Every year, just coming back, already knowing what you need to do really helps out. Having Paige and Jaime, who are so experienced, really helps us develop even more quickly.”

Culver mentioned the younger players stepping into bigger defensive roles as a pillar for the defense’s success.

“We lost one of our main defenders (due to graduation),” Culver said, speaking of Brittany Maisano, an all-MAC second-team selection in 2016. “But we’ve had a sophomore come fill in: Amanda (Reed), and she’s doing a great job. We get each other. The relationship is a big part of it. We understand where we’re going to be.”

Members of the back line often have joking conversations about how they’re doing the dirty work that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, often for less credit from a casual fan.

“When you’re a defender, you kind of know that’s going to be your role,” Reed said. “You still go out there and get it every game. You know your team appreciates it and recognizes you even if the stats don’t reflect that.”

Marinaro said the stingy defense can help give the Flashes a leg up on the competition in a tightly contested MAC.

“I think it builds confidence knowing that we defend very well,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity every time we go out there.”

Henderson-Muschett said she thinks having such a strong defense can sometimes take pressure off the rest of the team.

“It really helps us,” Henderson-Muschett said, “because then all we have to worry about is getting the ball in the net. If we do that, we know we can win that game.”

If the Flashes win the remaining three games, they could secure home-field advantage for the conference tournament.

The Flashes play Toledo at 7 p.m. Thursday at Dix Stadium.

Cameron Hoover is a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected]