Sunday, August 31, 2003

Longtime friends help NKU succeed

Soccer program turns its head to defense

By Shannon Russell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

When the Northern Kentucky University women's soccer team graduated a standout senior class in 2002, coach Bob Sheehan - and his opponents - harbored doubts about the program's immediate future.

"When they left, I guess the perception was 'That'll be that for NKU,' because that class was so good," Sheehan said.

The Norse went on to earn a 20-1-2 record and a fifth straight Great Lakes Valley Conference title and advanced to the NCAA Division II national quarterfinals.

Thanks, in part, to super defenders Becky Schnieders and Robyn Withers.

Critics were right about the Norse's offense, which produced only 60 goals in 2002. It had scored 118 goals the season before.

But the offensive vulnerability revealed a stringent defense engineered by Schnieders, an All-GLVC and All-Region marking back, and Withers, an all-conference sweeper.

Opponents scored a school-record-low 11 goals against the Norse, and goalkeeper Megan Zalla (Notre Dame Academy) averaged less than one save a game.

Sheehan said Schnieders and Withers were a big part of the team's 13 shutouts ... not that they'd agree.

"We usually know from previous years what players did last year and how to defend them," said Schnieders, a four-year starter. "But (Robyn) and I always have good communication, too. We always know how to play with each other."

Their career has been years in the making. Schnieders and Withers have been teammates since they were sixth-graders at St. Lawrence in Price Hill, and they anchored Seton's program for three years.

Withers said it has been difficult adjusting to the limelight because NKU's offense had been heralded for years. There are certain milestones she's proud of, such as holding Division II national champion Christian Brothers (Tenn.) to three shots on goal in a 1-0 NKU win last September.

"We don't think the things we do (defensively) are a big deal. As long as we do our job, that's what's important," Withers said.

Speed, she added, was the

defense's forte last year. This season, the seven returning Norse have organized weekly sprints to get back in similar shape.

Under Sheehan, NKU has evolved into a powerhouse Division II program with a 108-22-7 record in six seasons. The Norse, who are 40-0-4 in conference play, began the season ranked third in the NCAA Division II preseason poll and No. 1 in the GLVC.

The Norse won their season opener Friday, defeating Saginaw Valley State 4-0 in the John Toebben Labor Day Weekend Classic in Wilder.

The NKU defense allowed only one shot on goal.

"Two years ago we were winning games 5-1 and 5-0. Last year we were winning 1-0 in the 80th minute," Sheehan said. "We'd never been thought of as a defensive team, but (Becky and Robin) are a very important part of that success."



Foley, Wilson cut in Bengals' purge
Lewis hints cuts likely to run deep
Who will stay? Who will go?
Bengals Q&A
Peppers watches fame grow beyond Carolina
Redskins take risk, keep two quarterbacks

No. 2 Buckeyes put on a No. 1 performance
Daugherty: Forget Clarett, Krenzel's the main man
UC back had no breaks, but he was never broken
Rocky start for Roethlisberger
UConn dominates in opener
Wildcats defense has new attitude
Top 25 roundup: No. 8 USC shuts down No. 6 Auburn
Scores, how the Top 25 fared

Elder run over at Ryle festival
St. X announces its presence
Highlands' defense steady in win
Saturday's other games
Sorry, Elder, it's us, not you
For Ryle Festival, less is more
Prep sports results

Sunday's Game: Cardinals 5, Reds 0
Big dreams earn tough challenge for Miley
Injury can't keep Reds' Berry away
Saturday's Game: Cardinals 6, Reds 3
Notes: Wagner still adjusting to majors
Reds chatter
Reds Q&A
MLB power rankings
Marlins lose Lowell for the season
NL: Pavano's 10 K's spark Marlins
AL: Pettitte outpitches Pedro

Champions Tour rolling into town
Shootout looms in Tradition

Distracted Capriati wins in 3 sets
Roddick refrains from war of words

Youngsters combine to dominate Busch race
Darlington promises to be a rougher ride
Junqueira stays ahead of CART pack

In Rome captures RD Pepsi Bassinet

Moeller's Brackman mulls playing 2 sports in college
Page Two power rankings
Longtime friends help NKU succeed

Sports on TV, radio