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Bryant defense ready for next step in 2018

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This is the first of a three-part series previewing the Bryant Women's Soccer program entering the 2018 season. The midfielders will be spotlighted on Thursday, with the forwards preview coming Friday.

SMITHFIELD, R.I. – Discipline and efficiency: those are two words that could describe the Bryant University women's soccer defensive unit as they enter the 2018 season. They are also backed up by a pair of stats the Bulldogs led the Northeast Conference in a season ago.

The Black and Gold committed just 6.6 fouls per game last season, a mark that landed them 16th on the NCAA leaderboards as well as the top of the conference while allowing a 0.80 goals-against average, which was good for first in the NEC as well as the New England region.

This season, having replaced a pair of defenders as well as their starting goalkeeper, the Black and Gold are ready for the next step in this process under fourth-year head coach Andy Biggs.

"We've been very pleased with the play of our defenders and goalkeepers over the course of the preseason," Biggs said. "They are working very hard to develop a high level of communication and understanding within the group, as well as remaining calm and composed on the ball."

Leading the charge will be the two remaining starters from last year's lineup that started the season at Rhode Island, sophomore Jamie Irwin (Succasunna, N.J.) and junior Caitlyn Linden (Newtown, Conn.), as well as the 2017 team's leader in goalkeeper minutes, sophomore Meghan Dalton (West Hartford, Conn.).

"Last year, we were such a cohesive unit and we all knew how to step together," Linden said. "This year, we are building off of that since we had so many players who were subbed in so we know what we are doing on the field with that experience from last season."

Biggs also added that the Bulldogs have improved away from the ball when the team is pushing forward in attack to help support. Bryant's defense contributed nine points last season from the back line.

"The back line and goalkeeper are moving well together to cover the space behind our forwards and midfielders, as well as in front of our goal," Biggs added.

Along with Irwin and Linden, the Bulldogs return seven defenders from last season, including senior Katie Nugent (Newton, Mass.), juniors Ailene Berry (Burlington, Conn.) and Jaden McCarthy (Smithfield, R.I.) and sophomores Emily Gordon (Grafton, Mass.) and Becca Michaud (Westport, Mass.).

Two freshmen, Chae Diani (Milton, Mass.) and Kellie Errasti (Duxbury, Mass.), are joining the Bulldogs on the back line and have made names for themselves in the preseason at wingback and centerback, respectively.

"With the strong freshmen we have coming in, as well as strong upperclassmen who have been here, we all know how to work together on the field and will know what our jobs are when the regular season starts," Linden said.

That campaign will start on Monday when the Bulldogs play host to Quinnipiac at 4:00 p.m. at the Bulldog Soccer Field.

For an inside look at the Bryant Women's Soccer program, be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.