2013 Women's Soccer Preview: Defenders

Maryland Athletics
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This is the second part of a four-part series that will preview the 2013 Maryland women's soccer team. In the first part fans were introduced to the goalkeepers. Today the Terrapins’ defenders are previewed.

Part 2: Defenders

Last season Maryland’s defense was young and even where it wasn’t young in years it was inexperienced.

A pair of freshmen started on the left side of the backline, a sophomore with just four collegiate games of experience under her belt played the majority of the season at right back and a senior was moved to play center back despite never even practicing the position at any point in her career.

Last season was a trial by fire for the young Maryland back line, but that youth turns into experience this season, which is bolstered by the return of fifth-year senior Megan Gibbons.

Gibbons was injured late in the Terps’ sixth game of the 2012 season against Alabama and up to that point had been the team’s best overall player. The injury forced her to miss the remainder of the season, but allowed her to receive a medical redshirt and return for 2013.

“I’m so excited to have Megan back on the field this season,” said Maryland head coach Jonathan Morgan. “She brings so much to the team from her leadership and how she conducts herself in a professional manner every day that it’s almost like her soccer is a bonus. But her soccer is tremendous and her ability to cover ground end line to end line is absolutely special.”

Gibbons’ replacement at right back last season was Shade Pratt, but the junior speedster, who competes for the Maryland track and field team during the spring, has moved over and is competing for the center back position vacated by the graduated Domenica Hodak.

“I’ve been impressed with Shade,” said Morgan. “We’ve known all along she has amazing speed, but she’s deceptively strong and has embraced the challenge to get better in the air. We’ll see how she handles the transition.”

But Pratt isn’t being handed the job as she is competing with senior Kayla Clarke and sophomore Kayla Shea. Clarke was the starter during the spring and is experienced, but has been hampered with injuries during preseason training. Shea has been impressive so far in preseason training after suffering through her own injury-filled freshman season.

The left side of the Maryland back line is likely set with returning starters Shannon Collins and Erika Nelson back for their sophomore seasons at wide back and center back, respectively.

Collins is one of just two student-athletes to start all 23 matches last season and logged a team-best 1,990 minutes. She also chipped in offensively with one goal and three assists and can contribute on set pieces.

Nelson took over the starting left center back position in the team’s seventh game of the season last year and never looked back. A solid blend of size, strength and speed, Nelson was a stabilizing piece to the Maryland defense in 2012.

Junior Amanda Gerlitz played exceptionally well in the spring and gives Morgan a capable reserve at either wide back position.

Freshman Hope Gouterman will be a reserve center back, but will benefit from experience and time in the program.

The wild card of the back line could be sophomore Sarah Fichtner, who will also be in the mix at the holding center midfield position. Fichtner, who transferred to Maryland from Rutgers prior to the 2012 season, has missed the past two seasons due to injury. She is getting healthier and improving her fitness and could likely be a contributor early this season.