New Albany High School girls soccer coach Chad Schuler has tried emphasizing defense the past few weeks.
He hopes one line he delivers regularly to his players punches through as much as anything.
"Defense doesn't necessarily take skill. It takes awareness," said Schuler, whose team is 4-2-2 overall and 3-0 in the OCC-Capital Division. "There's definitely a level of accountability there. You don't want to be that girl who's made an example of because your girl got free and made the big play against us. Just trust your instincts.
"There have been games where the other team's midfielders have gotten back on ours and we weren't aware of when they were making their runs. That's stuff we can correct."
Since a 5-0 loss to Perrysburg on Aug. 25, the Eagles have allowed four goals in five games thanks to a shift in attitude and philosophy.
"Everyone is playing their role and not trying to do too much," senior outside-midfielder Erica Blankmeyer said. "I feel like we're doing a good job in the middle of the field and taking away a lot of the other team's options. We know we're not going to stop every ball, but we expect to. We're playing with a lot of confidence."
New Albany erased an early 1-0 deficit against Olentangy Orange on Aug. 28 in the teams' OCC-Capital opener to win 3-1. The Eagles held Pickerington North without a goal for the first 74 minutes of a 1-0 loss Aug. 30, tied Grove City at 0 on Sept. 6 and defeated Delaware 3-0 on Sept. 13.
"In our last five games, we're 3-1-1," Schuler said. "I'm happy with our efforts. We lost 1-0 to Pickerington North in the last six minutes of the game, and they're always one of the top teams in central Ohio. We had a few early opportunities there and didn't convert. Then we scored four goals (against Olentangy on Sept. 8). It's how things even out."
Senior center-midfielder Kristen Lee said senior Chrissy Harris, juniors Jessica Brand and Kelci Winters and sophomores Sam Damante and Kyra Zuiderweg have been especially key to the defense's improvement.
"It's tough to single out anybody," Lee said. "This team never gives up."
That's especially true for senior goalkeeper Meghan Jayes, who sustained a broken right hand against Orange and has played with it in a cast since. She made eight saves in the 4-2 win over Olentangy, but only needed to make three against Grove City.
The Eagles are nearing the end of a nine-day stretch without games, which resume Saturday, Sept. 22, at home against Canal Winchester. Schuler couldn't remember an in-season break that long, but he and his players don't seem to mind.
"We'll get a chance to rest our bodies, heal any injuries and eat well," Lee said. "We've got a chance to come out of this break and finish strong."