Defending the nest: Burlington Township defense stands tall in season’s opening weeks

The Falcons are off to fast start thanks to a stingy defense that earned five shutouts in the team’s first six games.

Burlington Township girls soccer is off to a fast start in 2019 thanks to defense that allowed just one goal in the team’s first six games. Burlington Township’s defense includes junior Anna Creagh, sophomore Nadia Pickering, senior goalkeeper Erin Turpin, senior captain Ryan Hodnett, sophomore Brenna Field and junior Andrea Farr.

Burlington Township girls soccer’s motto for the 2019 season is very simple and straightforward: “Strong alone. Unstoppable together.”

“We have very talented individuals, but as a unit, when we play (together), we can be unstoppable,” head coach Sarah Stringfellow said in explaining the quote.

The Falcons have certainly lived up to their motto on the defensive side of the field so far in 2019. In the season’s first two weeks, Burlington Township’s defense was close to unstoppable, allowing just a single goal in the team’s first six games. The team’s lights out defense helped the Falcons to a 5-1 start.

“All of the games have been so close and nail biters,” said goalkeeper Erin Turpin, who earned four of Burlington Township’s five shutouts in net. “It just kind of happened.”

Ryan Hodnett prepares to clear the ball out of Burlington Township’s end of the field during the Falcons’ 3-0 win over Holy Cross last Monday. Hodnett is the captain of Burlington Township’s talented backfield.

Burlington Township’s backfield is the perfect mix of experience, poise and talent. Senior captain Ryan Hodnett leads the unit, acting as the last player standing between the opposition and Turpin. Hodnett and Turpin are both vocal leaders, directing the team’s defensive shape and keeping the unit in line.

“When Erin talks, when Ryan talks, the team listens,” Stringfellow said. “They need to make sure we’re playing our system and having the correct shape. They’re calling it out…they’re controlling the field from the back.”

“(Communication) plays a huge role, especially with (Erin and Ryan) in the back always helping us and directing us where to go,” added junior back Anna Creagh.

Hodnett, Creagh and junior Andrea Farr are the older players in the backfield. Burlington Township’s defense also includes sophomores Brenna Field and Nadia Pickering, two players who made the varsity team as freshmen and helped turn the Falcons’ defense into one of the most formidable in the Burlington County Scholastic League.

“We try to play total team defense,” Stringfellow said, noting the midfield has been a huge part of the Falcons’ defensive success as well. “We get back, we play aggressive, play hard, try to clear the ball out. We give it our all every game to really protect that net.”

“Everyone already knew each other and knew each other’s playing styles,” Field added about the defense’s approach entering the season. “It just fit very well together.”

Field in particular made an impression in 2018, being one of only two freshmen named all-conference in the BCSL.

Sophomore Brenna Field chases down a loose ball for Burlington Township during the team’s 3-0 win over Holy Cross last Monday. Field’s speed and instincts have made her one of Burlington County’s top young defenders.

“She’s so skilled,” Stringfellow said. “She’s smart, she makes smart tackles, she really contains and doesn’t stab at the ball. She’s probably one of the smartest players on the back line.”

The chemistry the defense built in 2018 has carried over into this season. Hodnett noted the tight relationship the defenders share has made a difference in their play.

That tight relationship sometimes includes tough love. Farr said all of the defenders “hold each other accountable” for what happens on the field.

“We all back each other up,” Creagh added. “We all want each other to succeed.”

To say the shutouts were important to the Falcons’ strong start is an understatement. Burlington Township won each of its first three games by a score of 1-0. Allowing goals in those games could have drastically changed the Falcons’ record in the early part of 2019.

“This year, we have a lot of the same defensive players from last year,” Hodnett said. “We’ve been trying new people up top so it’s really important to work really well together and let nothing through.”

Burlington Township’s offense is a work in progress with one of last year’s top returning attackers, Jiselle Daniels, out with an injury. But even with the offense still working out the kinks, the defense has kept the Falcons winning. And if the offense can turn a corner, Burlington Township may become “unstoppable” later this season.