Notebook: Defense leads as Iowa State tries to finish season strong

Sophomore goalkeeper Jordan Silkowitz gets set to kick the ball in play against Texas on Oct. 16. Iowa State lost 1-0.

John Miller, J_Miller_8

So close, but yet so far. That has been the feeling for the Iowa State soccer team (2-4) this season.

Three of the Cyclones’ four losses have been by a goal, including Friday’s 0-1 loss to the Texas Longhorns (3-3).

While these results can be frustrating, Head Coach Matt Fannon says that Iowa State is so close to being an elite team.

“Our close matches hurt more than any other because we’re competing with teams in every category,” Fannon said. “We are doing everything we need to win except put the ball in the back of the net.”

According to Fannon, Texas and Iowa State were matched equally. The shot count finished 12-12 and the corner kicks favored the Cyclones 6-5.

But Iowa State could just not finish the opportunities it had. Only three of the seven shots attempted by the Cyclones were on goal, meaning the times they did kick the ball, it wasn’t close to going in.

“It’s frustrating especially because we had chances,” said senior defender McKenna Schultz. “But it gives us confidence because we know we got in spots to have those chances in the first place.”

Fannon said that the only difference in the Texas game was one play.

Texas’ Haley Berg squeaked a free kick into the lower left-hand part of the goal to put the Longhorns ahead in the 56th minute.

“I told the women that I feel pretty good after a couple of days of sulking about it,” Fannon said. “I feel confident with how well we broke down a great team and these games will eventually go our way.”

Through six games, Iowa State has scored four goals. The .667 average per game is tied with Baylor for third-lowest in the Big 12.

Fannon said the lack of goals is due to how Big 12 teams play. They often try to control the possession of the ball and not get in high-scoring affairs.

Nonetheless, senior forward Tavin Hays thinks Iowa State can do a better job scoring.

“The only way to get experience to finish those goals in games is by doing it,” Hays said. “We just need to step up.”

Fannon said that while the lack of scoring falls on him as a coach, the players play a major role too.

“It’s one of those strange things,” Fannon said. “You can’t really coach creativity so we need to make sure our forwards believe they can score goals.”

But while Iowa State has struggled offensively, the defense has picked up the slack.

In four of the Cyclones’ six games, they’ve given up one goal or less.

Hays said a huge part of the Cyclones’ success has been goalkeeper Jordan Silkowitz.

Silkowitz is tied with Baylor’s Jennifer Wandt for the most saves in the Big 12 with 31 (5.17 per game).

“She’s been the biggest strength of our team,” Hays said. “We’ve been able to stay in so many games because of her.”

Fannon said that the team’s mentality has helped them succeed in the defensive aspect.

“We’re defending with a passion like we want to play defense,” Fannon said. “Most teams don’t do that but we know defense is all about effort, which is something we can control.”

Despite the close losses, Fannon said that it is a great accomplishment to even be in this position.

Considering that Iowa State had a winless conference record last year and missed even the chance to play in the Big 12 tournament, the players think so too.

“We’ve gotten better every single game and I don’t think I could say the same about last year,” Schultz said.

Iowa State (2-4) has a better record than its next two opponents – Texas Tech (0-3-2) and Kansas State (1-4).

Texas Tech was voted as preseason favorite to win the Big 12 Conference, but has dealt with injuries to key players.

Preseason All-Big 12 Members Madison White, goalkeeper, and Cassie Hiatt, defender, have missed action for the Red Raiders. White returned to action Oct. 2 while Hiatt is still out.

“They’re phenomenally talented so we have to make sure we stay sharp and don’t take their record for granted,” Fannon said.

In the 24-year history of women’s soccer at Iowa State, the Cyclones have finished fifth or above in conference only three times.

Standing at seventh out of ten teams, Iowa State could make a push with two wins. If the Cyclones win the last three games of the season, they will be over .500 with a 5-4 record.

A winning conference record hasn’t happened at Iowa State since 2005, the last time the program made the NCAA Tournament.

But despite the anticipation of a historic season, Fannon said the Cyclones need to stick to what’s in front of them.

“We just care about Friday,” Fannon said.