SFA Soccer 2012 Preview: Defenders
Aug. 13, 2012
NACOGDOCHES, Texas - The Stephen F. Austin Ladyjacks had a season for the ages in 2011, one that could not have been accomplished without the nation's fifth-best defense when it came to each goals against (0.416) and shutout percentage (0.684).
SFA set a school and conference record last season with 13 shutouts, including a stretch of nine straight from Sept. 23-Oct. 23. en route to a conference-best eight goals allowed.
So as mundane as the sports clitche is, defense truly does win championships and it's something that SFA head coach Tony Amato and his team can gladly hang their hat on.
"Obviously our foundation is defending," Amato said. "We never want to give up goals. We want to make teams beat us with a quality shot. Our focus this fall was the overall shape of the back four and putting teams under constant pressure."
The Ladyjacks do face the task of trying to replace first-team all-conference defender Jordan King, who graduated after a decorated career at SFA. Looking to help fill her shoes will be senior Breanne Vernon, who flawlessly made the transition to the backline last season en route to a first-team all-conference selection.
The Calgary, Alberta, Canada native was second on the team in minutes played in 2011 (1594) and played and started in all 19 games. Vernon is someone Amato and the Ladyjacks will rely heavily on to help direct a nearly flawless defense from 2011.
"Breanne will be the key to the backline," Amato said. "She has the experience as a senior and made the transition to the backline last season. We'll look to her to play center back and take the line to another level and keep everyone organized."
Joining Vernon on defense will be senior Leslie Shurtleff, who was first on the team in minutes in 2011 (1613) and also started and played in all 19 contests. The Roanoake, Texas native will play a similar role in 2012 along side sophomore Megan Dunnigan.
Dunnigan, out of Round Rock, Texas, played and started all 19 games as a freshman. She will continue to play outside back and will be looked upon to utilizee her athleticism and build off of last season.
Amato is also expecting to get valuable playing time from freshmen Rachel Owens and Chantal Curry. Owens, a native of Houston, Texas, is seen by Amato as a versatile player who can help both in the mid and backfield.
"Rachel is a very good player who can play in the midfield and in the back she's not just an athletic hard-working fit player," Amato said. "She's a quality player that we think can play multiple roles and that's come forth in preseason so far."
Curry, who comes from Austin, Texas and graduated from McNeil HS, is a very athletic player who is an out and out defender and could contribute once she gets comfortable in the system.