2022 Goalkeepers and Defenders Preview

Just two goalkeepers feature among the Australians in NCAA Division I this season, a major reduction on the numbers seen in recent years. However, both Talia Grossman and Isobel Davy find themselves at intriguing points of their college careers heading into 2022. Meanwhile, a bumper crop of 14 defenders will be doing their best to keep opposition strikers at bay, including returning Butler star Claire Farrington and Young Matildas World Cup representative Greta Kraszula, as well as Hannah Peric, who returns for Massachusetts after missing almost all of last season with injury. The defensive players may not get the glory of those banging in the goals, but there are plenty of storylines to follow among this group.

Goalkeepers

Isobel Davy (Sophomore, UMBC, Bungendore)

Restricted to just two appearances in a freshman season interrupted by injury, Isy Davy enters her sophomore season looking to make up for lost time and return to the starting lineup. One of four goalkeepers on the roster, there will be plenty of competition for that playing time. Davy is one of three who saw playing time in 2021 alongside senior Morgan McGruder and fellow sophomore Abbey Cowles. Australian coach Vanessa Mann has UMBC on the rise in recent years, improving their record from a single win in the Spring 2021 season to five during the most recent fall campaign. However, the Retrievers will be most focused on improving a conference record that sat at 1-7-1 last season, and hopefully Davy can be a major part of that improvement.

Talia Grossman (Junior, USC, Palo Alto)

Yet to make an appearance for USC after serving a lengthy apprenticeship behind Kaylie Collins and Anna Smith, Talia Grossman enters the 2022 season hoping to challenge Smith for the starting berth between the sticks. A former Young Matildas camp invitee, Grossman spent the summer in WPSL with Bay Area Surf, essentially turning part of her off-season into an extended preseason that will allow the junior to hit the ground running as the 2022 college season approaches. With any luck, that additional time around the game will stand Grossman in good stead as USC look to challenge for the Pac-12 title in a conference that is regularly among the toughest in the nation to win. The Women of Troy finished a point shy of a conference title in 2021 after a final-day loss to arch-rivals UCLA, and will be champing at the bit to reverse that situation in 2022. Intriguingly, their new head coach following Keidane McAlpine’s departure to Georgia is former UCLA assistant Jane Alukonis, whilst Grossman’s new goalkeeping coach Saskia Webber brings a World Cup winner’s medal and a glittering CV from her own time at UCLA to USC.

Defenders

Jasmine Barry (Junior, UNC Asheville, Brisbane)

A starter in 16 of her 18 appearances in 2021, Jasmine Barry’s move from Rocky Mountain College to UNC Asheville has been an unqualified masterstroke to this point. Having made the move up from NAIA, Barry slotted straight into the Bulldogs’ lineup to play in excess of an hour in 13 contests. Now, with multiple players moving on following their senior year, the Queenslander looks set to be one of the leaders of the defence that will attempt to improve on last season’s numbers that saw the team concede 1.783 goals per game, well into the bottom third in the nation. Whilst improvements at the other end of the pitch will also be required to improve on last season’s six wins, improving on 2021’s count of just three clean sheets will go a long way to flipping some of last season’s losses into draws and wins.

Abbey Burns (Freshman, UAB, Adelaide)

The state of Alabama has been a happy hunting ground for a number of Aussies over the years, and now UAB have joined the party with the signing of versatile South Australian Abbey Burns. The first Australian-born player in Blazers’ program history, Burns comes to UAB with significant experience at NPL South Australia level whilst also having spent time with the Adelaide United A-League Women’s team. Having notched 70 appearances at NPL first team level since 2019, Burns has the ability to play either as a fullback or in an attacking midfield role, but is listed as a defender on the UAB roster. It will be interesting to see how the freshman is utilised for the Blazers, but with the team not short of players in either area, that versatility may be a method by which Burns can secure additional playing time from day one in Birmingham. With UAB having not posted a record above .500 since 2018 and the team preparing for a step up from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference in 2023, Burns joins at a crucial time in the Blazers’ development, and hopefully the South Australian can be a catalyst for significant improvement in the team’s fortunes.

Claire Farrington (Junior, Butler, Modanville)

Former Brisbane Roar defender Claire Farrington slotted straight into the Butler lineup as a freshman and hasn’t looked back in her two seasons in Indianapolis. After narrowly missing the NCAA Tournament in 2020, the Bulldogs secured an at-large bid in 2021 courtesy of a 15-win season and a return trip will be the absolute minimum requirement in 2022. Farrington and the Butler defence kept nine clean sheets in 2021, allowing an attack that notched 1.95 goals per game to capitalise and deliver the Bulldogs a highly successful season. Farrington looks set to once again be a large part of the defence, particularly given her almost ever-present status in the starting lineup. However, the Northern NSW product has also shown her ability to get forward and provide support in attack, notching the occasional shot as well as a memorable game-winning goal against Marquette in her freshman season.

Annaliese Grove (Sophomore, UMBC, Canberra)

One of three Aussies on a UMBC roster led by fellow countrywoman Vanessa Mann as head coach, Annie Grove started in six of her nine appearances in 2021 and will be hoping to build on that freshman campaign in 2022. In an exceedingly young defensive group of which nine of the ten players are either freshmen or sophomores, those nine appearances actually give Grove more college match experience than the majority of her defensive teammates heading into the 2022 season. That defence will be tasked with improving UMBC’s goals against average of 1.472, which isn’t a relatively terrible number, but certainly sits on the wrong side of the national average. Just a slight improvement could be a massive boon for the Retrievers, who managed just a single conference win as part of a 5-9-3 season. In saying that, UMBC have been steadily improving their numbers at both ends of the pitch over the last few seasons under Australian head coach Vanessa Mann and the team certainly looks to be on an upward trajectory.

Eloise Jones (Freshman, Rider, Sydney)

A player with plenty of experience at a number of levels in NPLW New South Wales, Eloise Jones joins Rider after spending the 2022 season with Central Coast Mariners’ first grade side in Football NSW League One (formerly NPL2). One of two freshmen joining the MAAC this season alongside Siena midfielder Iona Snape, Jones had been ever-present for the Mariners’ first grade outfit this season prior to leaving for college and will head into her freshman campaign with some solid match minutes in her legs. The Rider faithful will certainly be hoping Jones can hit the ground running, as the Broncs could do with some defensive reinforcement. Five of the eight defenders are listed as freshmen, and with the team leaking 1.7 goals per game in 2021, those first-year players will have quite a job to do in their opening campaign. However, that also provides Jones with a massive opportunity to earn a spot in the starting eleven from day one and make a case to maintain that spot in the long-term.

Greta Kraszula (Sophomore, VCU, Sydney)

Following an interrupted 2021 campaign which saw the Northern Tigers product feature just six times for VCU, Greta Kraszula is primed for a far bigger sophomore season. Having spent the offseason playing in the reformed USL W-League, Kraszula has made up for lost time with regular 90-minute outings for Indy Eleven, culminating in Young Matildas selection for the FIFA Under 20 Women’s World Cup. Upon her return from Costa Rica, Kraszula will hopefully slot back into a VCU lineup that is looking to make amends for last season’s disappointing first round exit to St. Joseph’s in the Atlantic 10 conference tournament, which occurred after the Rams posted a 9-1 conference regular season record. The Rams will need players to step up after losing several players to graduation, but the experience Kraszula has gained over the off-season should stand her in good stead to emerge as a leader for the VCU program.

Caitlin Le Roux (Sophomore, Louisiana Tech, Adelaide)

With 13 appearances under her belt but only four starts in her freshman season, Caitlin Le Roux comes into the 2022 campaign with a platform from which to launch herself into even more playing time for Louisiana Tech. The South Australian has plenty of reason to be buoyed by her performances last season, averaging just shy of 45 minutes per contest in a defence that gave up only just over a single goal per game. There is certainly room for improvement throughout, but the roster has not lost a massive amount of experience from the 2021 side that finished 6-8-3. With the vast majority of this year’s roster still with at least two years of eligibility remaining, there is no reason this team can’t build back to the program’s usual mark of 12+ wins over the next couple of years, and Le Roux looks set to be an integral part of that growth.

Layla Lopez (Redshirt Freshman, Oral Roberts, Melbourne)

A transfer from Utah Valley, Layla Lopez heads to Oral Roberts for a fresh start in the Summit League. Having not featured in a competitive fixture in her sole season in Orem, Lopez will be looking to quickly change that as the Victorian joins a roster that kept just two clean sheets in 2021. The fullback was one of new head coach Austin Risenhoover’s first signings since joining the program in December of 2021, and the Golden Eagles’ coach has had only positive things to say about Lopez since she joined the team. Despite their slightly leaky defence, Oral Roberts managed to post six wins in 2021 courtesy of a potent attack. If the defence can shore things up even slightly, there is definitely potential for a far more successful season, and hopefully Lopez can play a major part in that.

Asha McClurg (Junior, Coastal Carolina, Busselton)

A rock at the back for Sussex County Community College at the NJCAA level, Asha McClurg makes the transition to NCAA Division I soccer after helping lead the Skylanders to a national tournament berth in 2021 and securing All-Region selections in each of her two seasons. The Coastal Carolina faithful will be hoping that those accolades can translate into the Western Australian helping to shore up the Chanticleers’ defence, which leaked almost 1.7 goals per game in 2021, which combined with a scoring average of just 0.88 goals per game saw the team only able to secure six wins. However, it must be mentioned that of those six wins, four came as part of a 4-5-1 conference record, so the team from Conway was not especially off the pace in league play, and McClurg may just be the defensive standout to help take the team to the upper echelons of the conference.

Aimee Medwin (Junior, Long Beach State, Hobart)

An almost ever-present fixture in the Long Beach State side in 2021, Aimee Medwin returns in 2022 aiming to help Long Beach State build on their last campaign and continue their upward trajectory. The Tasmanian started in 16 games, appearing in all 18 of Beach’s contests as the team finished with a 9-7-2 record but narrowly missed out on the Big West tournament after dropping each of their final two games. However, it was still a major improvement on 2019’s 4-12-1 record and Beach will be hoping that they continue to rise in 2022. However, they will have to find a way to replace several departing seniors, including Big West co-Defensive Player of the Year Kaitlin Fregulia. Fortunately, Medwin is among a group of juniors that have significant experience which should provide Beach with solid leadership in a squad that possesses just one senior.

Hannah Peric (Junior, Massachusetts, Sydney)

Hannah Peric delivered an outstanding freshman season in Spring of 2021, but a season-ending injury saw the Manly United product’s sophomore campaign restricted to 19 minutes of playing time. Now, the towering defender is set to return with a vengeance for a Massachusetts team that finished 11-6-4 in 2021 but made a run to the Atlantic 10 Championship game before falling to Saint Louis. Already an imposing presence in defence, Peric may only have scored one goal in 2020 but her sheer presence plays havoc with opposition defences at set-pieces, providing the Minutewomen with a real point of difference in just about every game they play. How well they can use that to their advantage as they look to go one step further in the Atlantic 10 this year remains to be seen, but having Peric back in the lineup could be massive for UMass this season.

Isabel Rolley (Senior, Oregon, Las Vegas)

It’s a case of “new school, same conference” for Isabel Rolley in 2022, who joins the Aussie contingent at Oregon following a transfer from USC. A starter in 9 of her 12 appearances in 2020, Rolley moved to a role off the bench, coming off the pine in all 13 games in which she appeared in 2021. With experience playing in a variety of defensive positions, the American-Australian looks to return to the starting eleven as part of an Oregon team that is looking to make its first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history. 2021’s 9-4-6 record was the Ducks’ best since a 12-win season in 2006, and a vast improvement on 2020’s six-win mark as former US national team assistant Graeme Abel continues to build the program as the Ducks’ head coach.

Dani Rutstein (Sophomore, UTRGV, Sydney)

A defensive star for NCAA Division II outfit Clayton State in 2021, Dani Rutstein has made the jump to NCAA Division I and will look to reprise her role at UTRGV in Edinburg, Texas. A starter in 12 of her 14 appearances for Clayton State, Rutstein averaged in excess of 75 minutes for a Lakers side that finished 6-7-1 but kept five clean sheets in those 14 games. Now, the former APIA Leichhardt and Inter Lions defender will look to help her new side improve on 2021’s 6-12-2 record and especially the 2-7-1 WAC record that saw the Vaqueros finish 10th in the 12-team league. UTRGV’s attacking and defensive stats both languished towards the bottom end of the national rankings last year, but the addition of a player like Rutstein could have a real impact on improving 2021’s goals against average of 1.6 and help lift the Vaqueros up the table.

Belinda Stojcevski (Freshman, Eastern Illinois, Melbourne)

Originally, Belinda Stojcevski was to be one of two Australians at Eastern Illinois, but the freshman will carry the flag solo following Ash Harvie’s departure from the side. One of no fewer than five defenders in the Panthers’ 2022 recruiting class, the former Calder United centre back joins a team in serious need of reinforcements at the back after conceding almost 1.8 goals per game, a number that sits in the bottom 100 of the nearly-350 programs in the nation. Having spent time with Box Hill United, FC Bulleen Lions, and Calder United during her time in NPLW Victoria, Stojcevski is no stranger to elite competition, playing both alongside and against a number of A-League Women’s players and former college stars, including a player who dominated the Ohio Valley Conference in Harriet Withers. It is now Stojcevski’s chance to make her mark in the OVC as the Panthers look to return to the glory days of 1999-2004, during which the team won five conference championships.

About Lachy 386 Articles
Founder of College Matildas. An Australian women's football fan who also happens to be a college sports fan. Often found at A-League Women or NPLW games.

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