By: Steve Boltri – Staff Writer
It is very rare in sports to see the same teams have success in consecutive years if there aren’t changes made to the roster and tactics in the offseason. If things don’t change year-to-year, the tactical side of the game becomes much easier; teams will know how to strategize against their opponents. This type of change was the most necessary thing for the Dayton women’s soccer team heading into 2017 if it was going to have any chance of emulating last season’s late success.
Despite being crowned A-10 tournament champions in 2016, thanks to an impressive run of results to round out the season, the Flyers’ campaign was characterized by flashes of brilliance amidst what was otherwise largely average play.
The team as a whole didn’t score a lot of goals, but it didn’t concede a lot of goals either. It kept decent possession but wasn’t overwhelmingly dominant in that aspect. It had some big wins, but also suffered some disappointing losses. The Flyers finished the season with a 9-10-3 record.
One spark of genius came from now-senior Alexis Kiehl, who led NCAA Division I in goals with a staggering 21, in just 22 games, which equaled exactly half of Dayton’s team total. Then-senior Libby Leedom tallied the second-most goals with 10. Current sophomore Micayla Livingston was joint-third with just two goals.
Kiehl was able to lead the Flyers to an A-10 tournament title and an NCAA tournament bid, only to lose to Ohio State in the first round. The team’s play throughout the season did not reflect the success that it ended with, however, and it was apparent that the problem throughout was in large part due to the uneven distribution of goals scored and the fact that Kiehl was the only player who was a consistent goal threat.
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The first change for the 2017 season came when coach Mike Tucker announced his retirement. Dayton brought in Eric Golz as the new head coach, who immediately knew that he had to find ways to get more players involved in the attack.
“Every year there are personnel changes to each team, so it is necessary to make some tactical adjustments to best highlight the strengths of the personnel on the roster,” said Golz. “We have tweaked a few things, and it was important to develop more balance in our attack with every opponent we face very aware of and focused on Alexis [Kiehl].”
The Flyers counted on Kiehl for their goals last year, and if she wasn’t scoring it felt like no one would. Golz commented, “We never want to be a team that is reliant on the performance of one player; that becomes predictable and easy to defend.”
He added, “We knew it was going to have to be a priority to develop more variety and balance within our attack, and I think the team has done well to continue to evolve with each game.”
Spreading The Attack
Now this is where the stats start to get really interesting. Through 12 games last season, Dayton had a record of 3-7-2 with 18 goals scored by six different players, nine of which came from Kiehl. After 12 games this season, the Flyers had a record of 6-5-1, but had scored only 17 goals but from seven different players, with just five coming from Kiehl, who still leads the team in that department.
Kiehl and Leedom were the only two Flyers to crack the three-goal mark all of last season, while Kiehl, Livingston, and junior Sara Robertson have each netted at least four times already this season. So the team’s goals per game are down slightly from last year, but its record is substantially better. Through 12 games, Kiehl’s five goals amounted to only about half her total at the same point last season, but other players are scoring more than last year to balance it out.
So, do the Flyers have a better record so far this year solely because they have found a way to get more players involved in the attack? Probably not. It could have something to do with goalkeeper Kaelyn Johns who was recently named A-10 Defensive Player of the Week, and currently leads the A-10 in shutouts this season with six.
However, the new offensive tactics in attack are certainly helping. Kiehl told Flyer News, “We have a different system this year, but it’s a good one that allows more numbers to join the attack and for other players/positions to have more opportunities on goal.”
Not only does more numbers in attack help to distribute the goal-scoring, but it also helps to limit the attacking opportunities of opposing teams, both of which translate into a better chance of winning games. “It is important [to have a lot of players capable of scoring goals] because having a good distribution of players scoring goals makes us an even more dangerous as a team,” said Livingston.
And that right there is they key; to be more dangerous as a team. Last year, teams played against Dayton with the mindset, “Limit Kiehl and we’ll win.” Now it’s, “We just have to stop Kiehl…and Livingston…and Robertson…”
That doesn’t even include junior defender Nadia Pestell, who leads the team in assists with four, which highlights Kiehl’s point of getting more positions involved in the attack. The Flyers’ opponents now have to spend a lot more time planning defense, not allowing for as much creativity in attack, which surely has contributed to Johns’ impressive goalkeeping record this season.
Model For The Near Future
Having a more balanced attack doesn’t necessarily mean more goals, as seen by the earlier statistics. But what it does is allows the Flyers to control more of the game in the attacking third of the field. If more of the game is played in the attacking third, less is played in the defensive third, limiting the scoring opportunities of opponents. And now that opponents really have to keep an eye on more than just Kiehl in attack, that actually has potential to free up Kiehl as well as others for even more scoring chances.
Golz and the women’s soccer team took arguably their biggest weakness from last year and turned it into one of their greatest strengths, which could prove vital for the rest of the season.
Currently, Dayton women’s soccer is 7-6-2 through 15 games. Kiehl has added four more goals in the team’s most recent three games, in which the Flyers went 1-1-1.
Photo by Christian Cubacub/Multimedia Editor