In the first half of its 16-9 win over Cal on Sunday, USC’s defense showed just how far it can carry this team.
The Trojans held the Bears to two goals in the first 30 minutes. The stamina and agility of USC’s defense was the highlight of the day, given the time the Trojans spent defending in the first half. Cal couldn’t find many open shots, and when it found a shot worth taking, the Trojans were right there on the Bears’ hands to contest it. Senior crease defender Natalie Byrne brought the pressure against Cal and made them work for every shot.
“It’s really important for crease defenders to get out on the bottom people’s hands because they’re usually the ones feeding,” Byrne said. “The faster we get in their hands, the less time they have to feed.”
The Bears couldn’t take the Trojans one-on-one and would have to pull back out to the 12-meter whenever they tried. Byrne credits the Trojans’ stout defense to the team’s preparation.
“We’ve just been practicing really solid together,” Byrne said. “We pride ourselves in our defense. We really are a family out there. We never get on each other. It’s always positive.”
It was a positive day for senior attacker Izzy McMahon as well.
McMahon had a handful of goals, going 5-for-9 on shooting, grabbing three draw controls and causing one turnover. It was a wildly different performance compared to her game against Stanford two days ago, where she went 1-for-5 on shooting and wasn’t much of an offensive threat.
“Today I just wanted to play loose and kind of just forget about whatever happened on Friday,” McMahon said. “Our mentality this year has been next play, letting go of things that have happened in the past and just focusing on the present … I just wanted to go out there and play loose and do whatever I had to do for my teammates and myself and come out with the win in the end.”
Head coach Lindsey Munday was impressed with McMahon’s quick turnaround.
“I’m just really proud of her for being able to step on the field today and put the past behind her and just step up and take the opportunities that she had,” Munday said. “It’s hard getting out after a bad game and [to] not focus on it … but glad today that she stepped on the field ready to put some shots away.”
McMahon’s five-goal outing nearly doubles her goal count on the season from six to 11. The Trojans shot 47% on the day with eight goal scorers, leaving Munday pleased with the depth of her bench.
“I think every single person on this team battles so hard in practice and competes in practice, so it’s awesome to be able to see [freshman midfielder] Caroline Cheetham score her first goal of her career today,” Munday said.
Munday subbed in her second line with around 11 minutes left to play when the Trojans held a commanding 15-4 lead.
It’s important to McMahon to get the underclassmen and second liners in for game experience and preparation for the future.
“I think it’s awesome,” McMahon said. “We play a really solid defense, and what’s great about that is that the underclassmen and the second line that comes in understands what shoes they have to fill, and with that we’re just helping them mold into that defense that we have now … The way they respond to it and the way we prepare them is key.”
Even though the Trojans proved to be more skilled than the Bears on both sides of the ball, they continued to struggle on the draw. The Trojans rarely won a draw control clean and found themselves constantly battling on the ground for the ball. In the first half, USC was out-grabbed 7-3 on the draw and 15-12 on the game.
“It’s obviously an area of focus we need to work on as a team and get better at and just continue to compete,” Munday said.
The Trojans will be focusing on draw controls in practice all week to prepare for their upcoming games against Arizona State and Stony Brook.
USC plays another double-header next weekend starting 1 p.m. Friday at Arizona State.