By Kevin Erpenbeck
After a 0-0 draw with the University of Utah in the home opener, UK women’s soccer head coach Jon Lipsitz called the team “uncoachable” and said that it was time to make a change to the roster.
While his original intention was to improve the offense (who had scored just one goal in the first two games of the season), Lipsitz’s changes also improved the overall defense.
As part of the roster change, all starting defenders this season are converted defenders. Two midfielders as well as two forwards began the season at their respective positions before they were moved to the backline as defenders.
One forward who moved back to defense was sophomore Kelli Hubly, who switched positions with junior Arin Gilliland. Hubly had the second-most goals and points for the team last year, with Gilliland leading the team in both categories.
She said the transition from an attacker to a defender actually gives her an advantage on the field.
“Since I was an attacking player last year, I now know what those attacking players on the other team are going to do,” Hubly said. “I know when attackers can’t be the defender, it gets them frustrated and takes them off their game. So that’s what I try to do now.”
UK has a goal-against stat of 1.12 and has recorded six shutouts on the season. UK’s defense has also held their opponents to a .356 shots on goal percentage while allowing 69 shots on goal for the season, which is third-most in the SEC.
Sophomore Olivia Jester, who moved from the midfielder position to defender, said the defense learns through their wins.
“That’s our motto this year,” Jester said. “We might get scored on in a few games, but we’re still winning. Jon takes clips every single day and he teaches us how to get better as a whole, and we take that day-by-day.”
Sophomore Cara Ledman, who moved to defender from her forward position, said the team still prides themselves on one thing, however.
“We pride ourselves on getting those shutouts,” Ledman said. “That’s how we know we’ve helped the team achieve victory every game if we hold the opponent scoreless. We do learn from our wins, but we also do our best to get those shutout victories too.”
Ledman is the only player on the starting defense that played in the backline the previous year. Ledman started this year listed as a forward, but was moved back to defender after the roster change by Lipsitz because of the experience she possessed.
Some of the starting defenders said that the Ledman’s experience has helped the team through the roster shuffle, including freshman Kaitlin Miller. Miller was listed as a midfielder at the start of the season but now is playing on the backline.
“Cara has been outstanding in helping us along the way,” Miller said. “She’s been a great leader and makes sure that we understand everything that we’re doing in the backline.”
One player that all of the defenders said they learned from, however, is senior goalkeeper Kayla King. As one of the most experienced players on the roster, she provides the most depth of knowledge in protecting the backline, according to the defenders.
“She’s such a good leader for us,” Jester said. “She’s very calm when directing us which way to go, telling us when we have a player by us, or where exactly we need to be on the field. She’ll walk us through the entire game, which makes it less stressful on us.”
King said that it is her job to be the coach on the field for the defenders, and that she is in a unique position on the field.
“As a goalkeeper, I have the benefit of seeing the whole field, and being the team’s head on a swivel,” King said. “My job as a leader is to help remind them of what they should be doing and what’s being changed with the game-plan as the game progresses. I try to give them the confidence they know they have in every game.”
King said that with the defenders being as young as they are (no starter with more than two years of experience), it only makes the team become that much better.
“I think it’s a tremendous asset for this team,” King said. “They’re always asking fantastic questions and getting better exponentially every day. Being defensively minded, it’s my job to give them the tactical instructions of what we do on defense that I’ve known for four years that they may not have heard before. The buck stops with me.”