Women's Soccer

‘The Foundation of The Team’: Women’s Soccer’s Defense is Key to Success

Steve Woltmann | Loyola AthleticsSophomore defender Alaina Abel goes for the ball in the Ramblers’ exhibition game against fellow Chicago team, University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC), Aug. 10.

The Loyola women’s soccer team is having yet another successful season as the Ramblers are pursuing a “four-peat” as conference champions. Head coach Barry Bimbi has led the Ramblers to the top of the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) — boasting an impressive 10-2-2 record with only one game left before the MVC Tournament. 

While goals and assists make it easy to judge the team’s high-scoring offense, Loyola’s defense is also a force to be reckoned with. Holding shutouts in nearly half of Loyola’s matches this season, the Ramblers’ defense is something senior defender Aly Kilburg refers to as the “foundation of the team.”

“The defense is a special unit on our team,” she said. “We really are part of the glue that holds the team together.”

The team’s tenacious defense stems, in part, from Bimbi’s coaching style. After a conference championship and NCAA tournament appearance last spring, he said there were no changes that needed to be made to the defense. The team simply needed to stick to the fundamentals.

“[There were] no real adjustments, just trying to do what we always do a little better every day,” Bimbi said. “We stay true to our principles.”

With an attack-first team, he said his offense and defense work as one. When the offense succeeds, the defense’s role is easier and vice versa, Bimbi said.

He said he wants to press other teams, keeping the ball on the other half of the field. When the team does this, their opponents have to run much further to score a goal instead of attacking on their end, Bimbi said. 

The team’s chemistry and steady mindset have also helped mold the defense. Senior goalkeeper Maddie Hausmann said the team’s close-knit bond helps her and her teammates play harder since she knows she’s playing with people she cares about.

“I think of them as sisters,” Hausmann said. “It’s really easy to go on the field and play for them because you’re playing for someone you love.” 

Bimbi’s emphasis on doing the little things right, like passes and tackles, has molded the defense into one where mistakes are rare and every opponents’ chance must be stopped before they start, Hausmann said. She said Bimbi expects nonstop pressure and effort throughout matches.

“Even if we are winning four or five to zero, it’s important that we make sure the little things are operating at a great pace,” Hausmann said. 

Nevertheless, the defense would be nothing without its key players — including five upperclassmen whose experience helps guide the first and second-year players. Graduate student Jenna Ross stands out as a seasoned veteran on the back line. Ross is a vocal leader for the other defenders and a rock defensively, Bimbi said.

Kilburg, a senior, is another key defensive piece with outstanding expertise at her position. Bimbi said she’s an excellent defender in the way she reads the game, stopping attacks before they start. Kilburg’s co-center back, sophomore Alaina Abel, is a player she said she trusts on the back four because they understand each other, know their roles and communicate on the back line. 

When she’s in goal, Hausmann serves as the last line of defense. She said she owes her abilities to the past Loyola goalkeepers that helped mold her into the defender she is today — teaching her to give firm instructions to command the back four. 

“[They] were good at yelling commands and being a loud, solid presence in the back of the field, which is why I try to emulate them,” she said. “Being that loud voice that my defenders need when the times get tough has been something I’ve worked on.”

Bimbi said Hausmann is a leader who helps motivate her defenders throughout matches, using her calm nature to maintain confidence in the back line.

“Maddie adds a very calming influence to our back line,” he said. “She gives direction in a non-panicked way, very calm in her delivery. The back line really responds to that.”

The Ramblers’ first-year and sophomore defenders also play a substantial role in Bimbi’s game plans. He said his roster is much deeper this season due to these up-and-coming players, helping ensure that the team finishes games strong. 

The defense includes three first-year players — goalkeeper Emma Guthrie and defenders Emma Irle and Ava Metaj. Metaj is the only first-year to receive playing time, appearing in five games this season. Alaina Abel is the team’s sole second-year defender, playing in all 14 of Loyola’s regular season games.

Now, in the final stretch of the season, the Ramblers’ defense remains its recipe for success. Hausmann said that a solid back line is crucial as the team gets closer to MVC championship play.

“We are going to continue to work hard and ensure that through the full 90 minutes, the opportunities we give the other team are kept to a minimum,” she said. 

The Ramblers finish their regular season against Valparaiso University Oct. 28 at Loyola Soccer Park. Kick-off is scheduled for 4 p.m. and the game is scheduled to be broadcast on ESPN+.

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