Sometimes, the best defense is a good offense — but what if your good offense is your defense?
West Virginia women’s soccer (3-1) is currently the top scoring squad in the Big 12 Conference, with nine goals in just four matches. That stat clearly tells of a new-and-improved offense for the Mountaineers, but that’s not the whole story.
While both of the Mountaineers’ multi-goal scorers, Stefany Ferrer-vanGinkel and Enzi Broussard, are attackers, three of their seven scorers happen to be defenders.
The back line has done more for the attack than just score, however. Led by center-back Jordan Brewster, WVU defenders are a key piece in starting the attack — using what head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown calls “tempo play.” Brewster’s tough play in her junior year has especially gotten the attention of her head coach, as she’s come to assume the de facto role of former WVU and current Olympique Lyonnais defender Kadeisha Buchanan.
“It’s very interesting because you’re going to see tendencies that Keisha and Jordan both have, and it’s hard not to admire that piece of it,” Izzo-Brown said. “I believe that both of them bring that piece, that can attack out of the back, that can generate that fast, quick play that we’re looking for.”
Of course, not all the credit for the squad’s tempo play belongs to Brewster, as the coach praised her other center-back, Gabby Robinson, for her important contributions to the attack as well.
Izzo-Brown’s squad is also helped by fast and attack-minded full-backs, including Julianne Vallerand, who is back on the pitch after missing much of last season due to injury — but not before she netted five goals in seven matches. Nicole Payne has emerged as the Mountaineers’ other starting outside back, after spending her freshman season as a winger. Payne’s speed has been a game-changer since the move, as she can often be seen in WVU’s attacking third slicing through opposing defenses.
The incorporation of the full-backs is a main focus for Izzo-Brown, as she says they regularly work on their “patterns of play” — rapidly passing the ball forward to cut through the midfield and into the attack.
“The girls work on that a lot,” Izzo-Brown said, “patterns of play and making sure that we have the ability to get them in and overload.”
Looking at the big picture, the spotlight sits on Brewster. Now in her third year as a starter, she has become a veteran in the starting XI with a lot of valuable experience playing alongside some of WVU’s best defenders of the last decade.
This year, it’s been up to her to help give Izzo-Brown that extra voice on the field to coach up her more youthful teammates.
“I know that that’s the type of leader that she wants to be as the minutes get higher for a Nicole or a Kenzie [Aunkst] or a Gabby. I think she’s had [her great leadership before], but I also know her experience — emotionally and technically/tactically — is really important to coach up around her.”