Lady Eagles' defense on alert

Matt Hollinshead,
Navajo Prep's Shaynia Jackson sets up a counterattack during Monday's practice. The Lady Eagles opened 2018 with three straight shutouts on defense.

FARMINGTON – Navajo Prep’s back line has become increasingly vocal, ensuring any and every defensive scenario on the soccer field is accounted for.

Players are alerting each other on where to go, where to cross to the sides, where and when to press up. The Lady Eagles are limiting quick cuts and breakaway chances. They’re also staying on foes going up against counterattacks.

That’s what has led to three straight 0-0 draws opening the 2018 campaign at the Taos Tournament this past weekend.

“I hope it continues throughout the year. I hope they keep the intensity up,” coach Stacy Irwin said. “My defense is talking more. Wherever the ball is located, they’ll be able to shift, cover the center. That way, they’re keeping everybody in tuned of what’s happening.”

The Lady Eagles faced the host school Taos, a girls soccer power in New Mexico, along with East Mountain and Bernalillo, whom Prep beat for the 12th and final playoff spot in 2017.

“They stood their ground and made sure nothing happened,” defender Mya Benally said. “Even though we were exhausted, we kept just pushing forward.”

Prep, which is 0-0-3 entering Tuesday’s match at Gallup, is especially limiting opponents’ space while defending counterattacks and getting key stops that way. Even after foes intercept the ball, Prep’s back row is ready.

“We try to shift to where (opponents) are, go where they’re positioned. It’s good that we stick on them and don’t give up, even after they won the ball,” defender Emma Mohs said.

And whenever Prep’s defenders may get knocked around on the pitch, Benally said they must be able to keep getting back up continuously, every time.

Irwin said the constant pressure on defense is forcing opposing strikers to overthink plays with the ball.

As the season goes on, Irwin said the back line must get more involved passing the ball to help set up those attacks in open space. Irwin said that defensive pressure already helps create extra running lanes for the midfielders and forwards.

But in the meantime, Irwin has no complaints over the three shutout draws.

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.