Senior defender Lorina White steals the ball away from a Toledo player during the game against Toledo at the Briner Sports Complex on Oct. 16. White was named Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year for the second season in a row. Kyle Crawford // DN
Defense leads Ball State soccer on 10-game unbeaten streak
Leah Mattingly, Lorina White, Taylor Pooley and Yela Zisweiler.
These four defenders should be noted on every team’s scouting report. After all, they've started on the back line in every Ball State soccer game this season, and the Cardinals are on top of the Mid-American Conference standings with a 7-0-1 record (12-2-2 overall), with just 10 goals allowed through 16 games.
And only two of those goals were scored during Ball State's current 10-game unbeaten streak.
Cardinals defense (rank)
Nine shutouts (1st MAC)
.62 goals allowed per game (1st MAC)
Two goals allowed during 10-game unbeaten streak
Filling out the back half of the lineup has been a no-brainer for head coach Craig Roberts.
“Each of them are talented in their own different ways, whether it is speed or it is decision making," Roberts said. "Each player on the back line is not the same, though they are balanced, and they are consistent. You get some major strengths they bring to the game, and because of that, they’ve been very productive.”
A particular set of skills
Mattingly, now a senior, immediately made her mark when she arrived on campus in 2013. She started Ball State's season opener as a freshman and has been in every game since, starting all 78 of the Cardinals' games over the last four years.
Now, Mattingly is the captain of the team and owns the Ball State record for most minutes played.
The rest of the defense didn't start coming together until 2015, when White transferred from Monroe College in New York and Pooley enrolled as a freshman. White, like Mattingly, started every game in her first year at Ball State. Then-junior White became the first Cardinal to ever win MAC Defensive Player of the Year.
While White and Mattingly led Ball State to last season's regular-season title, Pooley watched from the sidelines, missing most of the season with an injury. She was already looking forward to getting healthy and earning a starting role this season.
"I knew there would be some openings in the back line, and I was ready to do everything I can and rehab the broken ankle and do anything I can to solidify that spot,” Pooley said.
It was the offseason, Roberts said, where Pooley began to shine.
"We knew she was talented and we got to see a little more in the spring," Roberts said. "Subsequently when she overcame the injury situation, she started to gain more confidence, and I began to see in her what I saw when I started recruiting her.”
Zisweiler, the last piece of the puzzle, is a freshman from Spiez, Switzerland. It's her first year playing against collegiate opponents, but she's also a member of the Swiss U19 National Team.
“[Zisweiler's] international experience and decision-making were immediately seen during the preseason,” Roberts said. “She’s a very intelligent player, who reads the game very well, and makes good decisions.”
Nightmare for offense
No team in the MAC allows fewer goals per game than the Cardinals' .62 average. Their two senior stalwarts are usually flanked by Zisweiler and Pooley.
“Since me and [White] have been experienced with being in the backline already, I think it’s helped [Zisweiler] and [Pooley] kind of get used to playing back there since [White and I] play between them,” Mattingly said.
Ball State also leads the conference with nine shutouts. Its goalkeepers, however, are near the bottom of the leaderboard with just 3.31 saves per game because less than four shots on goal get past the defenders each game (3.94).
“[The defense] does such a good job of holding teams to very few shots on goal," junior goalkeeper Alyssa Heintschel said. "So my job is just to come up big once or twice when it does get by them."
Mattingly said the Cardinals have come a long way since her freshman season in 2013. That year, they made the MAC Tournament finals for the first time ever but lost seven games overall, including four losses in MAC play. Ball State has only lost five games in the last two seasons combined and hasn't lost a regular season conference matchup since Oct. 18, 2015.
“I think every year we’ve progressed and we’re getting better," Mattingly said. "So it’s not a surprise we're [40th] in the nation because we keep continually getting better, and I think we have better things to come.”
The end of it
The Cardinals are now ranked 40th in the NCAA Women’s Soccer RPI rating — the highest they've ever been ranked — behind the suffocating defense Roberts pencils in before every game.
“They understand that they are a part of a unit and that collectively that they need to sustain any offense that is going to be put against us,” Roberts said. “And so by them being a very intelligent group of individuals who are consistent and can concentrate the entire time, [it] obviously gives us the backbone for the offensive unit to give them time to develop and give them time to operate and score goals.”
Ball State is on top of the conference standings and has three games remaining before the MAC Tournament. Oct. 19, the Cardinals play at Ohio (3-11-1, 1-7 MAC), followed by a matchup against second-place Kent State (10-1-2, 6-0-2 MAC) Oct. 22. Ball State closes the regular season Oct. 27 at home against Miami (Ohio) (8-5-2, 5-1-2 in MAC), who is tied for third.
In those games, Roberts could very well tinker with his lineup. So far this season, 20 different players have started at least one game for the Cardinals.
But four names will likely remain unchanged: Leah Mattingly, Lorina White, Taylor Pooley and Yela Zisweiler.