The Daily Northwestern

Women’s Soccer: Two defensive powerhouses to face off

Kayla+Sharples+plays+a+pass+up+the+field.+The+senior+defender+played+all+110+minutes+in+last+year%E2%80%99s+contest+against+Rutgers.
Back to Article
Back to Article

Women’s Soccer: Two defensive powerhouses to face off

Kayla Sharples plays a pass up the field. The senior defender played all 110 minutes in last year’s contest against Rutgers.

Kayla Sharples plays a pass up the field. The senior defender played all 110 minutes in last year’s contest against Rutgers.

Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Kayla Sharples plays a pass up the field. The senior defender played all 110 minutes in last year’s contest against Rutgers.

Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Kayla Sharples plays a pass up the field. The senior defender played all 110 minutes in last year’s contest against Rutgers.

Charlie Goldsmith, Sports Social Media Editor

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story







Women’s Soccer


There might not be a single well-recognized defensive tactician in women’s college soccer who’s known for adding a wrinkle that revolutionized the game.

But if there’s a coach in the Big Ten that shares coach Michael Moynihan’s passion for defense and a team that reflects it, it’s Mike O’Neill and Rutgers (7-1-4, 3-0-2 Big Ten), who will play the Wildcats (8-2-2, 2-2-1) Thursday in Piscataway, New Jersey.

NU’s matchup against the Scarlet Knights last season was a grueling 0-0 draw, a match senior defender Kayla Sharples called, right after playing all 110 minutes, the most physically and emotionally demanding one of the season.

As the team wrapped up its last practice before going at them again, senior defender Hannah Davison and another starter walked off the field and reminisced about how challenging Rutgers is to play against. Unlike reigning conference tournament champions Penn State, which tries to win with pace and possession, Rutgers holds the ball and keeps its defense as compact as any team in the conference.

Except maybe Northwestern.

“They’re really good at keeping possession in the back, and I think they’re confident in their abilities in the back,” Davison said. “[We have to be] pressing as a unit and knowing when to go up and make a run at the ball.”

Getting to play in physical matchups like these is a big part of the reason Davison wanted to play for the Cats. Davison and Sharples form one of the most physically imposing center-back defenses in the NCAA, and over the last four years, Moynihan has weaponized her and Sharples all over the field.

They wall off shooters in front of the net, gain possession themselves and then push the ball up together before releasing it to a midfielder. Davison said she’s trusted Moynihan’s system the whole way.

“I know that a lot of my soccer ability relies on my athletic ability,” she said. “I wanted to be on teams that stay up very aggressively. I like pressing and I like being up in the other team’s face. So a team that kind of built on that was something I was looking for.”

While he benefits from having defenders like Davison and Sharples, Moynihan acknowledges he might be one of the few coaches who believes, as the old adage goes, that defense wins championships.

“I think every good team starts with a foundation of strong defending,” Moynihan said, “but I wouldn’t say that that many teams in the Big Ten really excel at it.”

According to Moynihan, defense is about balancing when to stay compact and allow the opposing offense to advance and when to swarm the ball. When Moynihan watches Champions League and Olympic Soccer, he looks for how teams manage staying aggressive while keeping their defensive shape intact.

Even though he thinks some European coaches are making progress, there hasn’t been one yet who’s been a pioneer in this area of the game. According to Moynihan, Rutgers is one of the teams in women’s college soccer that’s effectively adapting a strategy to its personnel.

“They still like to really build out of the back,” he said. “It’s a team that if you chase them and you’re not very organized in how you do it they really pick you apart.”

For stretches Thursday, it’ll be like looking in the mirror for NU, which had Davison excited about what her fourth matchup against the Scarlet Knights will look like. As she finished practice Tuesday and walked off the pitch with her teammate, she ended their conversation with two declarative statements.

“We haven’t beaten them since our freshman year,” Davison said. “Rutgers is always a team that we want to get after.”

Email: charliegoldsmith2021@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @2021_Charlie

Comments