After a record-shattering season for the National Champion UConn Field Hockey, beat writers Rachel Schaefer and Bryan Lambert debate the age-old question: Offense or defense?
Rachel: Defense. Nina Klein had 11 shutouts this season. 11. This is in no way an insult to the season Charlotte Veitner had—she was absolutely incredible. But the strength of this team’s defense, led by Klein, would still have outscored their opponents without Veitner’s contributions. She saved 71 shots on the season, but I understand that, in perspective, that’s not a lot. There’s a lot to be said for the confidence she has in the defense to ensure that she’s not often put in that situation. The best offense is a good defense.
Bryan: Klein is leaving the team with some of the best numbers in the program’s history, but the senior goalkeeper had a dominant defense in front of her. Klein was always able to rise to the occasion, but this defense was so good they could have won with even just an average goaltender in net. As you said, Klein was only called on to make 71 saves during the season. Only one other goalie ranking within the top 12 for save percentage in the country was required to make less than 85 saves. Klein doesn’t even rank with the top 50 in the nation in saves per game. She is phenomenal as a last line of defense but her job is made easier with players like Casey Umstead, the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, also on the roster.
UConn’s offense starts and ends with Veitner. Veitner led the nation in points (80) on her way to being named the Big East Player of the Year and the Field Hockey Championship’s Most Valuable Player. With 34 goals and 12 assists, Veitner directly contributed to 43 percent of UConn’s goals this season. And that's not even including the countless times she went goal-to-goal, broke approximately 12 ankles and just barely missed out on an assist. UConn’s offense would be hurting without Veitner there to lead the charge.
Rachel: The goalie is responsible for aligning the defense. Klein calls the shots. She is directly communicating with them throughout the game. Yes, it’s absolutely incredible to have a player like Umstead on the roster, but that only goes so far without an organized game plan. Not to mention the fact that Umstead spent a lot of time at the front of the field. She scored 15 goals this season as a defender. As a defender, she was named Offensive Player of the Week for the Big East. In the back of the field, Klein had ultimate control over everything.
Veitner is incredible. I can’t stress that enough. But she is not the only person that scored on this team. She is not the only person capable of scoring. Umstead, Margot van Hecking Colenbrander, and Amanda Collins all did serious work up front. Svea Boker had 13 assists at her position. This offense is dangerous without Veitner. Would the game be as enjoyable to watch without her? Probably not. Veitner is an incredible player who will always be fun to watch. But when it comes down to it, defense wins games. Klein is a rock. Klein never allowed a penalty stroke. She’s a machine. That’s what a great team needs.
Bryan: Offense may sell tickets, but in this case it also wins championships. The Huskies finished the season with Division I’s second highest scoring offense, averaging 4.24 goals per game. The Huskies played almost entire games just in their own offensive zone. UConn had seven games this season that they put up at least six goals. That is not a normal field hockey score. Obviously, a good portion of that can be attributed to a great defense, but the defense is more of a collective effort. Veitner is in a league of her own offensively.
UConn has other players besides Veitner who are able to score, but the rate at which she does so is simply absurd. Veitner outscored the entirety of UConn’s schedule, 34 to 17! Yes, Veitner is only one player on this team, but she might just be better than the entirety of some other teams. She gets my vote for MVP.