The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa women’s soccer defense impresses early, adds to hot start

The Hawkeye defense holds one of the best goals-against records in the country.
Emily Nyberg
Iowa soccer player Morgan Lietz braids teammate Kelli McGroarty’s hair before a soccer game between Iowa and Illinois at the University of Iowa Soccer Complex in Iowa City on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023. Sunday’s game marked Iowa’s Big 10 home opener.

The Iowa women’s soccer team is off to its best start to a season since 2019 with a 6-0-2 record, but that wouldn’t be possible without its firm effort on the defensive end of the pitch.

The defense has allowed just two goals through its first eight games and has boosted the Hawkeyes to five shutout wins so far this season. It currently holds one of the best goals-against records in the country.

The back line has plenty of leadership behind the experience of fourth-year captains Samantha Cary and Maggie Johnston, but first-year Millie Greer has made an instant impact and quickly grown into a starting role.

“You’ve got three really experienced, high-level players back there,” Iowa head coach Dave DiIanni said. “They are helping people like … [third-year] Miah Schueller and [first-year] Eva Pattison find their way slowly in the college season.”

DiIanni also pointed out how the back line has played in big-time games and is familiar with how it needs to deal with the pressure, leading by example for the younger and more inexperienced players.

Cary said she thinks this team was very underrated coming into the season and added that the back line has used that as motivation to perform at as high of a level as it has thus far.

Cary added that she’s been impressed with how well Johnston and Greer have fit in on the back line after moving from the midfielder position into a more defensive role.

“I think our back line has been our main foundation,” fourth-year Iowa goalkeeper and captain Macy Enneking said. “That’s why our midfielders and forwards have so much freedom to try and do things in attack.”

Enneking has also been key to a successful season.

Although she hasn’t been tasked with too much, Iowa has held opponents to two shots or fewer in nine of the first 14 halves played this season. Enneking’s clean sheets this year give her a chance to achieve her preseason goal of being named Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year, won last year by Michigan State’s Lauren Kozal.

Cary has been named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week for two consecutive weeks and was also named to the College Soccer News National Team of the Week after road shutouts against Virginia on Sept. 7 and George Mason on Sept. 10.

But Cary stressed that the defensive performance has been a team accomplishment, not just the back line and goalkeeper. She said the forwards and midfielders on the team have been stellar at winning the ball high up the pitch, in turn making the defense’s job easy.

Winning the ball high up the field has allowed the offense to flourish. The team can start attacks in great positions and launch counterattacks quickly, maintaining control throughout the match.

“Our spring [practices] helped us figure out who we are, what our strengths are, and where our weaknesses lie,” Enneking said. “I think our back line does an amazing job of finding those and working with that.”

Both Cary and Enneking said the Iowa coaching staff puts them in a great position to succeed. They credited the coaches for providing the players with a great scout against their opponents and letting them know what needs to happen before the game so they can move into a position to win.

DiIanni said this group has been very consistent early on this year, something that was missing from last year’s team that finished 5-6-7.

Communication on defense has been key for that consistency. The back line makes sure no one is making a run in behind the line and thus getting a one-on-one against the goalkeeper. The midfielders and forwards then know what woman to mark and try to win the ball back in the attacking third of the field.

“I think this year more than ever at an Iowa soccer program, we are unified as a team,” Cary said. “We are willing to go into any tackle for each other. We are willing to sacrifice our bodies.”

With Big Ten play kicking off this week after a 1-1 draw against Illinois on Sept. 17, the Hawkeyes will need that defensive mentality to continue for any shot at finishing the season as strong as they have started it.

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About the Contributors
Isaac Elzinga, Sports Reporter
Isaac Elzinga is a junior at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass communication. This is his first year working at The Daily Iowan; he also works as a producer for 1600 ESPN a sports radio station in Cedar Rapids.
Emily Nyberg, Visual Editor
Emily Nyberg is a second-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic arts. Prior to her role as a Visual Editor, Emily was a Photojournalist, and a News Reporter covering higher education.