Lions soccer team shutting down competition

Sophomore Alyssa Bova looks to kick the ball upfield against Shorter University Sept. 24. The Lions won 4-1. Bova started her UNA career as a forward but made the switch to defense last year. UNA has only allowed seven goals all season and has eight shutouts.

Most of the attention on the soccer team has been geared toward junior forward Chloe Richards, the D-II leader in goals (25), but the defense has been on lockdown mode all season.

The Lions have eight shutouts this season, which is more than goals allowed. The success of the defense has helped the Lions to a (10-2-1, 7-2) start and the No. 5 ranking in the first NCAA D-II South Region Poll released Oct. 22.

“We defend from the forwards all the way back, so it’s a true team effort,” said coach Chris Walker.

UNA ranks first in the Gulf South Conference with the least goals allowed with seven and goals allowed per game with 0.54.

The defense shutout four straight opponents and helped the Lions win five straight games.

Defensive depth has been one of the keys this season, Walker said.

“I tell them ‘if you’re getting tired, tell me because we have other people that can come in and do just as good of a job,’” Walker said. “The level of play never drops and it’s worked out. Whether they’re seniors or freshmen, they all work together.”

Senior defender Ellis Hillman said the high potent offense of the Lions has helped ease the pressure off the defense.

“Chloe and Beatriz (Fernandes) do a good job of holding the ball up front,” she said. “Last year as soon as the ball went up front we’d lose it straight away. So we’d be running up and down the field for 90 minutes and that’s not fun. Now this time they can keep the ball and give us enough time to recover.”

When the other team does get possession the Lions do well by shutting down their shots. UNA has outshot its opponents 227 to 129 and have only been outshot in a game three times this season.

Hillman said the team has confidence in the goalkeepers for when the other team does get by them.

“My sophomore year we had two very questionable goalkeepers, and it put so much more pressure on the defense,” she said. “You’d be scared because if they did get through, you knew they were going to score. Both Rachel (Beninati) and Madeline (Fancher), and even Shelby (Thornton) who is pushing to start have played really well.”

Beninati has only allowed three goals this season in 10 games. She was named GSC Defender of the Week Oct. 21 for shutting out Christian Brothers University.

Hillman was recruited to UNA as a forward, not a defender, but says being a forward previously has helped her in her current position.

“One of my coaches once said ‘the best defenders were forwards, and the best goalkeepers were forwards,’” she said. “You kind of know what’s going on in their mind, and you can almost read it.”

Another former forward turned defender is sophomore Alyssa Bova who Walker said does not get enough credit for her great play.

“I’ve never played defense until last year and at first I was like, ‘I don’t know about this,’” Bova said. “But I’ve actually come to like it a lot. It’s different because forwards get a lot of praise and defenders don’t but getting a shutout is really your shining moment.”

If the offense is ever struggling to score, Bova said the defense has the ability to step up in the situation.

Walker said Bova is not only one of the most overlooked players on the team but also one of the best players in the GSC. Bova was named GSC Defender of the Week Oct. 28.

“I’d say she’s the best outside backer in the conference,” he said. “She is getting more and more comfortable back there each game and is getting better and better. She can strike the ball as well as Chloe, but you just don’t see it because she’s a defender.”