Michigan junior defenders Carly Williamson and Andrea Kayal have different personalities that reflect their play on the soccer field. One is quieter and leads by example while the other combines strong defense with strong words for teammates and opponents. But they both play physical, aggressive soccer.

Paul Wong
With Andrea Kayal (left) and Carly Williamson (right) in its backfield, the Michigan women”s soccer team has recorded a school-record nine shutouts.<br><br>DANNY MOLOSHOK/Daily

They will play clean but their opponents should not be surprised if they get knocked down, losing possession of the ball and they better not expect a helping hand to get back up.

“You”re not going to call Andrea or Carly finesse players. They”ll run through a brick wall if you ask them to,” Michigan coach Debbie Rademacher said about the two captains.

Standing at 5-foot-2, opposing players and referees have made the mistake of overlooking Carly Williamson. That”s fine with her she has found that her height gives her a “weird advantage,” as it also allows her to be physical without officials noticing.

“I”m not someone who will use my moves to get around someone,” Williamson said. “I”d rather push them out of my way. I think that helps me sometimes because another player might not be expecting it. Sometimes if I go for a ball and they fall down, the referee won”t call it because he is not expecting something like that.”

As her opponents discover once they have been knocked down, Williamson is not a weak player. Rademacher said that Williamson can outlift most of the other players on the team. Williamson said she doesn”t max-out while lifting, but benches 110 pounds in a set of 30 repetitions and can lift 240 pounds on the leg press. Her strong lower body is very evident on the field.

“She”s not a small person. Carly is as strong as a bull and can outjump a lot of people,” Rademacher said.

Goalie Suzie Grech has noticed Williamson”s tough style of play but also complimented her ballhandling.

“Carly is definitely one of those players that doesn”t care she sacrifices her body every time she goes in,” Grech said. “She has great vision of the field and she is able to distribute the ball where she wants it, when she wants it. She”s a major, major force for us back there.”

Williamson”s ball handling skills can be partly attributed to her high school coach Joe Avila, who played her at every position but goalie for two reasons. Avila realized the importance recruiters place on versatility, and Williamson was so talented that he wanted her all over the field.

“It was the type of team that whenever they needed help sometimes, she was the plug,” Avila said.

Williamson also developed into a leader during high school, where she was named a captain during her junior year. Avila said she is the type of captain he loves: “Someone that sets an example and leads by that example.”

This style was adopted by Williamson because there were about 10 seniors on the team that wanted to be captains themselves and they might not have liked being told what to do by a junior so she let her play do the talking instead.

Williamson has noticed opponent”s frustration grow as she and the rest of the defense have improved.

Yesterday, an Oakland coach could be heard screaming, “they”re constantly beating you to the ball!” to the player Williamson was guarding. She has also witnessed opposing players and coaches swearing at each other as the Wolverines laughed at them.

Williamson has also encountered dirty play during Michigan”s shutout performances, such as an elbow in the face that she received during the Wisconsin game.

Although Williamson was primarily a center midfielder during high school, she doesn”t get many scoring opportunities these days. Through 16 games, Williamson has a single goal and has attempted only 14 shots. In comparison, team leader Abby Crumpton has taken 48 shots despite missing a couple games due to injury. But Williamson doesn”t care to be an offensive threat, for she has always been more suited to play defense.

“I just have the defensive mentality,” Williamson said. “You don”t get the glory of scoring goals and in a sense it”s a lot tougher because if you make one mistake they target it. So you have to be consistent the entire game. It”s almost more of a challenge, but I love it.”

Like Williamson, Kayal has played a variety of positions prior to coming to Michigan. She played forward in high school and still enjoys offense, but she feels it is in the best interest of the team to play defense.

“I”m more valuable on defense because I”m not prepared to play Division I forward,” Kayal said. “I feel like I have a lot more control of what is going on playing defense.”

Kayal said she also runs over the competition, she just does it more sparingly.

“I like to pick my moments,” Kayal said. “Normally, I don”t run through (people) like Carly I like to step in front or pick it away from them.”

She is also a more vocal player than Williamson and likes to talk to her teammates and her opponents. She is constantly directing and encouraging her own teammates with her play and words.

“Watch right Car(ly), watch right,” Kayal could be heard saying during yesterday”s game in order to help Williamson mark an Oakland player.

“Laurie (Peterson), Sully (Amy Sullivant), we need possession from you” she yelled to the front line, attempting to boost the team”s offense.

But what couldn”t be heard against Oakland was the comments she made to the opposing players, which she likes to do.

“It is a lot of sarcasm, just telling them about their skills,” Kayal said.

Goalie Suzie Grech isn”t far from Kayal on the field and can sometimes hear Kayal”s words for an opponent. Grech said that these words make the other team think and successfully takes them out of their game. But Kayal isn”t all talk, as she and the rest of the Michigan defense back up these words by shutting down opponents.

“People we play are used to being the stars all their life, and when you play defenders like Vicky (Whitley) and Carly and Shannon (Reid) and Sully who will just take the ball from you every time, it is very frustrating,” Kayal said.

After Adjustment, Defense Leads Team To Record

Williamson and Kayal deserve even more credit for their defense after adjusting to a new system this season. After playing last season in a “sweeper-stopper” formation in which there were three backs and a sweeper, the defense is now aligned in a “flat-back-four” formation that utilizes four backs.

This zone defense requires the backs to communicate with each other in order to pick up opposing players moving across different areas on the field. The adjustment wasn”t easy for the Wolverines. They came out flat in their first couple of games, starting the season 0-3. In those games, the team gave up nine goals on 41 shots.

In yesterday”s 0-0 tie, the team got its ninth shutout of the season a team record behind a defense that has dramatically improved from those first couple of games. In the nine shutouts, Michigan has kept opposing teams from putting much pressure on goalie Suzie Grech. The team has outshot its opponents by an almost two-to-one margin, 146-76, during that span. Grech would also be without one of her shutouts if it weren”t for a brilliant play by Williamson against Northwestern.

With less than 18 minutes remaining in the first half, the Wildcats were poised to take the lead as Kristen Pearce fired a shot on goal that was missing Grech. But Williamson stepped between the ball and the net to make a save of her own.

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