COLUMN: Defense is field hockey's strongest weapon
Winning a championship with defense is a concept that fans of any sport can understand.
As recently as Saturday, the Michigan football team made a big step toward a Big Ten Championship by holding Michigan State to 10 points.
In 2004, the Detroit Pistons won an NBA Championship with the same kind of defense the “Bad Boys” employed.
It also happens to be the formula the field hockey team – tied first in the Mid-American Conference – is using with much success in its hunt for a conference championship.
Central Michigan held defending conference champion Ohio to one goal Friday. The defense of the Chippewas had to clamp down for an extra 5:44 of overtime until the offense got its act together.
The team also traveled to a hostile environment at Missouri State, which was undefeated in the MAC at the time, and did not allow a goal.
Outside the conference, the Chippewas won their first game against a top-25 team in five years against then-No. 22 Maine by not letting any goals between the pipes.
It is for good reason they are relying on their defense.
They have an experienced goalkeeper in senior Anastasia Netto, who has made drastic improvements since she first stepped on the field as a freshman.
Netto also has a lot of help in the striking circle.
CMU ranks last in saves, but Netto doesn't take all the blame for failing to make them. The defense has been strong in not letting the ball get to her.
She only had to make three saves to shut-out Maine.
Senior Emily Girasole has performed well as Netto’s right-hand woman as the sweeper — an important position according to head coach Cristy Freese.
“It’s the quarterback of the defense,” Freese said earlier this season. “It’s the person that’s trying to organize the defense early, and then once they have to get involved, then your goalkeeper has to organize the rest of it.”
Senior Brittany Burga also brings experience as a back, and junior Skylar VanNatta’s skills on defense served the team well in crunch time against the Bobcats.
VanNatta participated in her unheralded role of charging at the shooter in the penalty corner in the last seconds of the game Friday and completely halted the play.
At the end of the road, the defense will have no time to catch its breath.
Kent State, ranked second in goals per game, comes to Mount Pleasant Saturday in what will at least decide which team gets a share of the conference championship.
Furthermore, it appears the fluttering CMU offense has not and will not be there to help, so the defense will have to win the championship.