Instead of being shot at with pellet guns, the Lady Bisons goalkeepers have been shelled not only with a large quantity of shots. But the real problem was that too many of those shot attempts were too high on the quality meter.
So it was more than a little refreshing for Lady Bisons coach Jon Ireland to see his team hold Austin Peay to only nine shots, including only three shots on goal. Last season the Lady Bisons gave up 195 shots on goal and 411 shot attempts overall, an average of 20.5 shots per game.
“The last couple of years we have had a problem keeping up speed-wise,” said Ireland. “We would get beat in the midfield and then it would be a domino effect. We were always chasing the ball. We couldn’t get to the ball first. The ball was always on our end and we gave up a lot of shots.
“One thing we tried to in recruiting was to make sure we got more speed, quickness and athleticism. I think it has made a huge difference.”
Ireland would like to see his team come close to duplicating the results of the Austin Peay game, a 1-0 win to open the season Aug. 21, when the Lady Bisons face Tennessee-Martin Friday at 4 p.m. in Martin, Tenn.
“We emphasize with our forwards that defense really starts with them,” said Ireland. “It is very important that our forwards put a lot of pressure on the defenders. We try to work for turnovers.
“In the midfield we talk about winning the battles there. In the backfield we have to be strong. Austin Peay had the ball on our end for long periods of time, but we didn’t give up any shots. We have to give up fewer quality shots and we have to stop giving up corner kicks.”
Ireland is once again expected to split goalkeeping time between Erin Zerio and Ally Marler, both freshmen.
On the back line Ireland will be counting on freshmen Katie Wood and Kameron Stillwell along with senior Cally Warren and sophomore Kirstin Heikkinen..
“Katie was tremendous against Austin Peay,” said Ireland. “She is so good in the air at winning headers. And that is something that we have struggled with in the past to have someone win headers defensively and offensively.
“She is also very sure-footed. She doesn’t have missed hits on the ball very often. She is very strong with both feet. She also has a lot of composure. When she needs to clear the ball she will clear it, but she also knows when she has time to settle it down and make a smart pass.”
Heikkinen has moved to defense after spending last season at midfield. Courtney Williams, another freshman, is also expected to get some time as well on the back line.
Warren, due to her experience, is expected to make both Wood and Stillwell better players.
“Cally is a very good defender and has been through all of the battles,” said Ireland.
The Lady Bisons, playing their first road game of the season, are expecting a strong showing from Tennessee-Martin, their second Ohio Valley Conference foe in a row.
“We have reminded them that every game we play is going to be different,” said Ireland. “UT-Martin is a very, very good team.
“UT-Martin is a more athletic team than Austin Peay. They are fast and big with an average height of 5-7. They move the ball very well. They are very organized as to what they want to do. It will be their home opener and they are very hard to beat at home.”