For the UR men’s soccer team, defense is a team effort.

‘There is no secret to our defense,” junior goalie Michael Peacock said. ‘We just work hard and work as a team.”

Nowhere was that more evident than in the team’s two wins this weekend against University Athletic Association rivals Washington University in St. Louis and University of Chicago. Against the Bears of Wash U on Friday, the ‘Jackets rode a stingy defense and an impressive offensive surge to a 5-0 victory. Two days later, UR dug in to pull out a 1-0 victory in a physical match-up against the Chicago Maroons.

The Yellowjackets improved to 12-2-2 and moved up one spot to No. 10 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll this week.

‘We have been emphasizing team defense with lots of pressure all over the field,” senior defender Jeremy Gaden said. ‘Everyone has been working hard to get behind the ball to give quality pressure and cover when we lose possession, especially our forwards and midfielders.”

Gaden and Peacock are two of the ‘Jackets’ most potent defenders, anchoring a UR backfield that has allowed just one goal in the last seven games.

In Friday’s game against Wash U who was ranked No. 13 at the time in the NSCAA poll the ‘Jackets’ defense was not the only thing working for them.

‘Against Wash U, we put ourselves in dangerous positions in their box through hard runs and good service from the flanks,” Gaden explained. ‘Our offensive players were really on that night.”

UR scored goals early and often on Friday. Junior forward Cliff White put the ‘Jackets on the board first, when he rocketed a shot past Bears goalie John Smelcer that deflected off the left post and into the back of the net in the seventh minute of play. Thirty minutes later, junior forward Scott Cady volleyed a ball past Smelcer to give UR a 2-0 cushion going into the half.

In the second, junior forward J.J. Dennstedt ended any hope of a Wash U comeback when he drilled a shot past Smelcer from 25 yards out on the left side of the pitch. Freshman midfielder Josh Richards and junior midfielder Kevin McDonald also added to the score tally in the second half, solidifying UR’s rout of the Bears.

‘The major thing that made the game so exciting was that we never let up,” Peacock said. ‘When we scored, we went right back at them, never letting them get dangerous in our end.”

The ‘Jackets’ defense, meanwhile, held Wash U to just three shots on goal. Peacock was good when he needed to be and finished the game with two saves, including a diving one that deflected the ball just wide of the goal in the 51st minute of play to preserve the shutout.

‘When our entire team defends with relentless pressure, we are tough to beat,” head coach Chris Apple said.

Two days later against Chicago, the ‘Jackets’ formidable defense was up to the challenge once again.

‘Chicago was a very tough game, they were not as technical as some of the other teams we have played, but they were very intense,” Peacock said. ‘We stayed composed during the game, and that is why we came out on top.”

The team only allowed the Maroons a single shot on goal for the entire 90 minutes. Meanwhile, the ‘Jackets logged a number of scoring chances, taking 12 shots on Maroon keeper Chris Guisto.

In the 63rd minute of play, Dennstedt finally put UR on the board. Senior midfielder Dominic Pellingra threw the ball in from the left side of the pitch, and Guisto, who came out to catch the ball, misjudged the height on it and tipped it behind him in front of the goal.

Dennstedt collided with Maroon defender John Hughes but still managed to get a head on the ball and put it in the back of the net to give UR the 1-0 advantage that it would never relinquish.

The ‘Jackets held off the Maroon’s attack for the final 27 minutes to come away with the victory. Gaden, sophomore defender Misha Carrel-Thomas and junior defender Phil Proud were especially solid during this period, anchoring the back line and stymieing any Maroon opportunities.

With the two goals this past weekend, Dennstedt now leads the team with 10 goals and 22 points this season.

The win was UR’s third straight and eighth in the last nine games.

When asked how his team has managed to stay so focused so late in the season, Apple explained that it is a matter of developing routines early in the year and in their careers that turn into good habits.

‘At this point in the season, those habits pay huge dividends when it comes to having a team that is focused and ready to perform at their best,” Apple said.

With one game left in the regular season against Case Western Reserve University who, at 3-2-1 in conference play, is currently fourth in the UAA on Saturday night in Fauver Stadium, UR will be looking to solidify its No. 2 spot in the conference and possible home-field advantage in the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament.

But the team is not concerned with the postseason at the moment.

‘We keep focused on the next game, don’t worry about what happened in the past and don’t worry about games that are going to come up in the future,” Peacock said. ‘Just the next game.”

Hilfinger is a member of the class of 2010.

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