Texas Tech soccer coach Tom Stone has been around long enough to see games he’s coaches decided by odd, fluke goals that had no bearing on how his teams played.
This year, however, he’s seen very few goals, if any, fluke or legitimate, allowed by his 14th-ranked Red Raiders through 12 games. Tech has allowed just five goals on the year, three of those coming in their only loss (to Long Beach State), and two of those three came in the waning minutes of the match.
That is not only a testament to senior goalkeeper Victoria Esson, who has posted eight shutouts this year, but the emphasis upon and depth within the defense, which has been absolutely smothering for the most part this season.
“One of the things (first-year associated head coach Todd Shulenberger) has stressed with the back six has been, let’s block shots, let’s block crosses and give Vic less to do,” Stone said. “What we’ve seen is if we make shots predictable, if shots are coming from places we can handle, then Vic’s really tough to beat.
“Any goalkeeper can get scored upon in you allow people to walk in on top of her. But we’ve made it tough to get to Vic, and when they’ve gotten to here she does what Vic does and pulls things out of her hat that you don’t really see.”
Having that continued defensive effort will be critical on Friday when the Red Raiders (10-1-1, 1-0-1 in Big 12) host TCU (4-5-2, 0-1) at 7 p.m. at the John Walker Soccer Complex. It is Tech’s first home game after eight straight on the road, where Tech went 5-0-1, and the Red Raiders are coming off a 0-0 tie with Oklahoma State on Sunday.
“I’m excited to be home here (Friday) and see the home crowd,” Esson said. “Get back to familiar surroundings. Being on the road is hard but every team has to do it.
“Obviously we’d like to win every single game but we still haven’t lost (in the Big 12) so that’s still in the running. But we need to come out and try to hit TCU on the head an take it game by game.”
Knocking the Horned Frogs around would mean Tech has continued to keep up its stellar play on both ends of the pitch.
Tech has outscored its opposition 26-5 on the year, led by sophomore Janine Beckie’s six goals and three each from Hayley Haagsma, Alli Murphy and Caity Heap. Five other players have two goals each.
As much goal-scoring depth as the Red Raiders have shown, however, it’s depth on defense that has been key. Six different defenders have played in at least nine of Tech’s 12 games and all six have logged between 433 and 875 minutes.
They’re a big reason why Tech has not allowed a first-half goal all season.
“They’ve all played in big moments,” Stone said. “When you can throw six or seven defenders in a game and still get a shutout, that’s more impressive than getting just four because those four can get tired. We have such good depth on the back line that’s been a strength for us.”
Like Stone said, it’s made things easier on Esson, who has 30 saves in 35 attempts for an .857 save percentage. She’s tied for the lead in the Big 12 with Baylor’s Michelle Kloss in both goals allowed (5) and save percentage.
“I think we’ve just tried to focus more on playing good defenses consistently,” Esson said. “A shutout is another name for good defense by the while entire team. We’re not going out there saying we have to get a shutout but that’s obviously the aim for the rest of the team. I try not to be overconfident but the better (the defense) does the more confidence it gives me.”
If the shutout isn’t motivation enough, there’s the belief that the Red Raiders let three points get away last year when they allowed TCU to score a goal in the 89th minute and force a 1-1 tie. Stone said that game showed him that season that he had a really good team — Tech went on to reach the second around of the NCAA playoffs.
The loss to Long Beach State last month seems to have had the same effect.
“The minute we thought we were good, Long Beach State came in and smacked us around,” Stone said, “and from that moment we’ve been a different team. If we ever start to think we’re not vulnerable or we can’t be scored on, or we can’t this or we can’t that, we just have to remember that game and it brings us right back down to earth.”
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