Dayton women’s soccer coach Mike Tucker has consistently put teams on the field that played dogged defense, but he didn’t know whether that tradition would continue while watching the Flyers at the beginning of the season.
After dropping their two preseason exhibitions by scores of 4-1 and 2-1, they gave up 11 goals in eight games and stumbled to a 3-4-1 record.
That scoring clip by opponents may not sound like cause for alarm, but in the previous four seasons combined, the Flyers had surrendered only 67 goals in 89 games.
“Defending is tough. It’s kind of a battle of willpowers sometimes,” Tucker said. “It comes down to three or four or five people working as a unit, and that’s pretty hard to do. Until you get a lot of repetition, it takes a lot to get that.
“We were so bad defensively at the beginning of the year, there was a concern. But all the other parts were there, and then that came around.”
Getting strong play from freshman goal-keeper Elizabeth Jones and golden back-end support from seniors Sarah Senoyuit and Meghan Scharer, the Flyers have allowed three goals while winning their last eight games.
They have a 6-0 record in the Atlantic 10 and have clinched the regular-season title with two games to go — their 11th crown in Tucker’s 19 seasons.
“For the most part, our seniors have led the way,” Tucker said. “They’re on a pretty good mission right now. They’ve been really good leaders. When you look at their performance, it’s been pretty spectacular.”
Sophomore Ashley Campbell is the team’s top scorer with 28 points (13 goals, two assists), but seniors Juliana Libertin (25 points) and Stephanie Emery (20) also are powerful attackers.
Tucker knows he’s in an enviable position with a trio of capable scorers.
“We’ve seen a lot of ‘man-marking’ on Juliana recently. In the last game, they tried to ‘man-mark’ both Juliana and Ashley,” he said. “Eventually, they’re going to find their way to get free anyway, but it allows a lot of other people some room to play.
“That’s tough. We feel very blessed to have that quality and quantity of good, attacking players.”
The Flyers (11-4-1), who have out-scored foes 37-14, will be making a run at their fourth A-10 tournament title in the last five years next week at VCU. They likely will need to win the event to reach their ninth NCAA tourney under Tucker.
“We want to make the NCAA — that’s the goal every year — and I certainly think we’re capable of winning games there,” the coach said. “I don’t think there’s many teams in the country that would want to play us. If we’re fortunate enough to get through this (A-10) tournament and get into the NCAAs, whoever draws us will probably say, ‘Oh, boy, that’s not who we want to play right now.’
“I want to see these seniors go out on a really good note. That means getting in the NCAA, first of all, and winning a few games in there.”