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WOMEN’S SOCCER: Lineup change pays off

Joe Meixell | Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Before the Irish began Big East play on Sept. 21, they were 2-3-1.

They struggled finding their identity on defense and had difficulty converting scoring opportunities.

After a 4-0 win over DePaul, however, the team turned around. Since that game, Notre Dame is 3-1 and has allowed 0.75 goals per game. Part of the reversal may be due to a position change – the Irish moved freshman Lauren Fowlkes from midfielder to center back.

The Irish defense had been suspect all season. Injuries account for some of the problems; junior Carrie Dew is still suffering from a knee injury, and sophomore Haley Ford has missed the last six games with a hamstring injury.

In light of these deficiencies, head coach Randy Waldrum said moving Fowlkes to center back gave the defense a much-needed boost.

“I think what she’s probably done for us is just given us some stability back there,” Waldrum said. “She just gives us another player that’s composed with the ball. She has a calming effect with the team.”

Waldrum said Fowlkes has adjusted well to the new position.

“When we recruited her, we saw her play all over the field and all kinds of different positions,” Waldrum said. “Surprisingly for a freshman, she’s not overwhelmed by getting thrown all over the place.”

Fowlkes’ “great physical presence,” Waldrum said, helped her find success in the defensive third.

“She’s very good in the air, and physically very strong,” he said.

The other defenders have responded, looking more at home in the new backfield, Waldrum said.

“I think they’re comfortable with it. I think you can see in their play, we’re starting to settle in a little bit more,” he said. “I do think it has brought some confidence to all the players and kind of settled things down for us.”

Waldrum said the play of the center backs has a trickle-down effect on the rest of the offense. Center backs who are able to control the ball, like Fowlkes and Dew, inspire the outside defenders to take more chances – all the while having confidence that the center backs can handle the repercussions.

“When you’ve got two center backs like that who can hold the fort down defensively, then you can take more risks coming out of the back,” Waldrum said. “I think that’s why you want two good center backs who can handle the ball, so you can take risks with your outside backs to get forward. And we’ve clearly done that.”

The Irish came out of the weekend with an 8-1 scoring margin, out-shot their opponents 36-10 and 20-3 in shots on goal and had an 8-2 corner kick margin. Waldrum said that in the 4-3-3 scheme – which features four defenders, three midfielders and three forwards – the team must use its outside defenders on offense.

“I think early on just getting them used to the system took a little bit of time, and now we’re starting to see some benefits,” he said. “[Junior defender] Elise [Weber] spends as much of the game in the attacking end as she does in the defending end, and [freshman defender] Julie [Schiedler] is really starting to grasp that concept too. And I think that’s partly because of Lauren and Carrie Dew.”

Without the outside backs involved in the offense, Waldrum said, the offense plays too narrow.

“We play central midfielders, so the space we’ve got to occupy when we have the ball, we’ve got to get some width in our team, and the players that provide that for us are our outside backs getting forward,” he said.

The success and influence Fowlkes has had in the backfield may stem from her poise, Waldrum said.

“When she came in, she came in like a veteran player,” Waldrum said. “We never really looked at her from day one like a freshman. She’s come in physically prepared to play and mentally prepared to play right form the beginning.”