[ UH SOCCER ]
Trio of defenders protect
the net for Rainbow Wahine
Check any college soccer team's statistics for shutouts and that number will appear on the printout under the team and goalkeeper totals.
Yet, any goalkeeper will tell you recording a shutout only occurs when the players out in front are doing their jobs.
Who:Fresno State at Hawaii
When: Today, 7 p.m.
Where: Waipio Peninsula Soccer Park Stadium
TV: Live, KFVE (Ch. 5).
Series record: Tied 3-3-1.
Last meeting: Rainbow Wahine, 1-0 (OT) at Fresno on Nov. 3, 2002
Notes: UH's four-match win streak is the longest of the season. ... Four of Fresno State's six losses were to teams in the top 25.
That support begins with the backs or defenders. Teams employ three of four backs on this first wall of defense in front of the goalkeeper and sometimes throw in a sweeper who can roam from side to side depending on the opposing attackers.
UH coach Pinsoom Tenzing has used three junior defenders -- Krystalynn Ontai on the left, Jessica Uecker in the middle and Liz Lusk on the right -- this season. This is the same trio Tenzing planned on using a year ago. But, Lusk was sidelined for a year with an injury. (She was ably replaced by Noelle Takemoto.)
The trio keeping opponents from getting off that many good shots or shots from close range this year can take a bow for their efforts in the school-record nine shutouts the Wahine have posted.
"They work well together. It's a towering prospect to play with just three in the back and we couldn't do it without the help of our two outside midfielders," said Tenzing, referring to Natalie Groenewoud on the right and Joelle Sugai on the left.
"When you play with three in the back, you give up a player. What I did was to zone them. There is no man marking," said assistant coach Bob Barry.
"One of the problems is that our keepers don't control the space in the box as well as I would like to see in the future. Mahie Atay (UH goalkeeper) is the best shot stopper in the conference. We're getting more confident in laying balls back to her, but it's a learning curve. You have to keep doing it right"
Groenewoud and Sugai hustle from one penalty box to the other, switching from offense to defense in an instant depending on the flow of the match.
"Natalie and Joelle do it religiously when it's necessary. They have learned to recognize when it is necessary. It's hard to feel the excitement of being on offense, then get back on defense," said Tenzing.
This allows Lusk and Ontai to cover the corners when an opposing wing makes a run because they know their backs are being covered.
Uecker controls the middle and her powerful right foot is used to take many of the direct and indirect free kicks awarded UH. Ontai often runs up to take corner kicks from the right side, attempting to swing the ball in toward the goal mouth with her left foot. Lusk also gets into the penalty area on corner kicks because of her jumping and heading abilities.
"The other thing we have worked on is tracking opponents. We have improved a lot," Barry said.
"Jessica doesn't appear to be that fast, but she has a lot of smarts and tracks successfully. She reads the game very well. Liz has the speed to track anyone. Krystalynn is the hardest-working player on the team. If there were such a thing as 110 percent, which there isn't, she would be the example.
"We have three players back there and no one opponent can beat two of them. I think they are feeling much more comfortable playing zone. It requires a lot of communication. Right now Jessica is the quarterback, but Mahie is getting so much better at communicating."
Knowing a wing midfielder is covering the weak side makes it easy for the three backs to slide in the direction of the ball. About the only time the UH defense broke down was in the opener against Arizona State and the first half against Southern Methodist.