BY DAN WINDHOLZ
Before facing Pitt-Greensburg and Behrend in the play off games, Clare McBane, head coach for Women’s Soccer, prepared the girls the way she had with every previous game: by calming them.
“I just tried to keep the girls focused on the simple things they needed to do to win the game,” McBane said. “We also reviewed stats from previous games, and what we did and did not do well that won those games and focused on making each defense breakdown into a goal and not just an opportunity for one.”
The successes of the team were due to the phenomenal work of every single member, but especially of team members Julia Cocozza, Jordan Byrley and Ashley Ruttencutter. Center-mid Cocozza and wing player Ruttencutter shifted their game almost completely in these play off games. In fact, they literally switched positions! Because forward Hannah Cooke and center defender Calene Dougherty were taken out for injuries, these two girls adapted amazingly, took the injured girls’ places, and played positions with which they had nearly no experience.
With Ruttencutter taking Dougherty’s center defender position, Cocozza joined Byrley, who is forward-trained, in the offensive position and scored two of three goals in the game against Pitt-Greensburg and both goals scored in the game against Behrend.
“(Cocozza) and Byrley developed phenomenal chemistry in the short time we put them together,” McBane said.
This switch-up completely caught the other teams off guard because it happened mid-game. Cocozza and Byrley switched their runs. McBane’s choice of formation, a 4-4-2, also allowed for a very strong offense.
“Some things that we did to improve our offense, actually, was encourage our two outside defenses to press high and help the defense,” McBane said. “We also had our outside wings press high and adopt a forward-type position.”
These offensive tactics, however, could not have been so successful without the team’s amazing defense, led by Mallory Garthwaite, a D-I transfer goalkeeper.
“Mallory … is such an unbelievable player, one of the greatest communicators for our defense,” McBane said. “She really commands the backline, telling them to shift positions as necessary.”
Garthwaite was backed up by girls like Ruttencutter who, since being moved center, was able to shut down offensive charges.
McBane is particularly thankful for having so much depth in her team, which could maintain formation without losing the chemistry.
“We were debating changing our entire formation,” McBane said. “But we had girls like Cocozza and Ruttencutter who are high-caliber players and can adopt different positions without the whole team having to learn the responsibilities of each of their new positions.”
Despite the 4-2 loss at semifinals to Behrend, McBane looks at the team with pride and is optimistic about the future.
“We’re only graduating one player, and all the girls have played together and played especially in a semifinal round,” McBane said. “The girls are just so excited to do it again.”