The Defenders

Knights No. 8 In United Soccer Coaches Poll UCF Trio Earns American Athletic Conference Awards

ORLANDO, Fla. ( – Just 15 minutes into the 2017 season, the UCF women's soccer team found itself on the ropes and down a player, after a last-ditch tackle stopped a South Carolina counterattack. Little did the Knights know, that red card would be the catalyst for their dominant defense.
It seems like an odd statement, as no team ever wants to be issued a red card. But for UCF, it was a blessing in disguise. (Though one they would not like to repeat.)
Playing down a woman, the Knights were forced to change their formation.
Senior Kathellen Sousa was moved from the midfield, putting her next to junior Maura Aman at centerback. Flanking the duo on the outsides are senior Saga Fredriksson and junior Carrie Lawrence. After splitting time in goal, junior Vera Varis has taken over as the primary goalkeeper.
"When they put Kat at center back, I think that's when everyone realized how much defensive capability she had," Aman said. "At that point, I think she even realized it. Since that game, she has exploded."
Despite the loss, the back line learned a lot about itself and emerged with more confidence. Following a 2-0 shutout of Stetson, the Knights turned their focus to then-No. 4 UNC.
"We got a really cold shower when they scored in the first three minutes," Varis said. "Then we realized that we needed to step up. And we did – we scored and it was 1-1. From then on, we were solid defending."
For the next 102 minutes, the Knights held the Tar Heels scoreless. By the time Kayla Adamek found Christine Creighton for the game winner in the 105th minute, the defense had done its job.
"The North Carolina game set the tone of what we were capable of," Fredriksson said. "We can't do anything less than that against any opponent because then we wouldn't play to our standard. We always talk about best being our standard. We can't come out not committed to any team. It's disrespectful to ourselves and the opponent."
Since the Aug. 25 victory, No. 8 UCF (9-1-1, 5-0-1 The American) has gone on a 10-match unbeaten streak. During that span, the Knights have conceded just four goals, with no more than one allowed in a match.
The secret to their success?
"Everyone takes responsibility," Varis said. "We're not pointing fingers at each other. We're like 'thanks for having my back on that.' We always have each others backs. No blaming, no pointing fingers, just getting better."
It is a sentiment that is echoed across the line.
"We always have each other's backs and we have so much trust in one another," Lawrence said. "Individually, we all bring something different to the table, but I think we complete each other as a whole. My favorite part of playing on the back line is going into games feeling so confident in the girls around me."
The Black and Gold offense has improved as well, scoring 29 goals, including 23 during American Athletic Conference matches.
"I think the best defense is to attack, and the best attack is to defend," Sousa said. "We just do our job. We don't want to let anyone down."
While the offense has exploded, the defense has locked down. UCF has recorded six shutouts this season.
"We're just very committed to the way we want to defend," Fredriksson said. "We spend a lot of time in video, understanding different roles and how to act in different situations. It makes every game a learning opportunity, and I think that has helped us a lot."
With the offense providing a cushion, it would be easy to get comfortable on the defensive end, but for UCF, that does not happen.
"Our mentality is maintained the whole game," Aman said. "No matter what the score is, shutout mentality is a way of life around here."