Victoria Breeden needed to show she could be a defensive leader in her senior year.

Ohio graduated its defensive anchor from 2018 in Rianna Reese, whose work on the back line of the pitch earned her the nickname “The Secretary of Defense.”

Reese was the heart of a Bobcat defense that pitched six shutouts last season. The defense was a key contributor to Ohio’s historic 2018 season, and it began with Reese.

But with Reese gone, the Bobcats had a hole in its back line. If they wanted to continue where they left off in 2018, someone needed to step up on defense.

Breeden saw it as her chance to establish herself as a defensive leader. In the offseason between her junior and senior years, she worked on improving her confidence and becoming a motivating voice for her fellow teammates.

These were traits that Breeden saw in Reese, who was a major influence on the senior defender when they played together. She was always learning when she worked with Reese so closely for three years, and Breeden credits a lot of her development as a player and a leader to playing with Reese.

“‘Ri’ was definitely one of the hardest workers I’ve seen on the field,” Breeden said. “She definitely pushed me to be my best. It’s super motivating when you almost see people working harder than you. It makes you want to work harder than them.”

Coach Aaron Rodgers was not surprised that Breeden picked up so much from Reese. He noticed how the two defenders tried to match each other’s intensity when they played together, which only brought out better play from both of them.

Along with a similar mentality, the two center backs also demonstrated similar styles on the pitch. Both use their physicality and speed to attack the opponents and play excellent one-on-one on-ball defense.

Both Breeden and Reese have abilities with the ball at their feet and can be capable passers and dribblers out of the back line.

Those are all qualities that Rodgers looks for in his center backs. He wants players who are strong, but versatile defenders, and that’s why he recruited Breeden five years ago.

Rodgers appreciates how far Breeden has come as a player since she first got to Athens. He has seen her develop from just a young player with promise to a solid contributor on defense. 

Now, she’s the vocal leader that he looks for on the back line to anchor the defense.

“Victoria’s done an amazing job of maturing and evolving into a leader,” Rodgers said. “I’m very proud of the season so far that she’s had.”

With only one match left in Ohio’s season before the Mid-American Conference tournament, the play of the defense is crucial to the Bobcats’ postseason success. Rodgers is looking for Breeden to continue setting the tone on defense as she has done all season.

“She’s a wonderful, physical presence in the one-on-one battles and she covers our back line well with her speed,” Rodgers said. “Victoria’s been amazing.”

Breeden has proven herself worthy of Rodgers’ trust, and she has earned respect on the field as the leader of Ohio’s defense.