With Ohio and Western Michigan tied early in the second half of their Mid-American Conference quarterfinal on Sunday, center back Victoria Breeden evaded pressure and hit a long ball forward.
It caused chaos in the Broncos back line, and Sydney Leckie picked up the loose ball to score the game-winning goal.
For anyone who has watched the Bobcats this season, this was a familiar sight. All season long, Breeden and her defensive partner Olivia Sensky have been able to play with the ball at their feet and launch attacks from the back. Their work has been instrumental in the Bobcats having their best season in 16 years.
“It has a big impact because not only can we play out of the back, but we can also play long balls,” Breeden said. “It makes us both pretty versatile.”
The importance of the connection between Breeden and Sensky doesn’t show up on the stats sheet, — the two defenders only having three assists between them — but the impact is obvious when watching the Bobcats play.
Breeden and Sensky have constantly turned what appears to be a dire situation on defense into a promising Ohio attack.
“If we are just kicking it forward, it is a 50-50 ball and we could lose possession,” Sensky said. “But if we are able to build out of the back, we have a better chance of scoring more goals.”
The sequence can be seen in the passing between the two center backs and Ohio’s main playmaker, Abby Townsend. Countless times throughout every game, Sensky and Breeden have weaved passes directly to Townsend, which allows her to use the skills that have gotten her a team-leading 11 assists this year.
The ability of Breeden and Sensky to play with the ball and connect with the forwards has been vital for the Bobcats. Center backs being comfortable on the ball has been a staple of Ohio’s game this year and is a focal point of coach Aaron Rodgers recruiting and tactics.
“That’s how we set up our team to play,” Rodgers said. “When we’re recruiting, we need center backs that are confident on the ball.”
Both Sensky and Breeden were ready for the challenge at the college level but for different reasons. Breeden relied on her experience as an outside back from earlier in her career.
“Coming in, I was an outside back,” Breeden said. “I’m used to taking players on, so it’s something I’ve been pretty confident in.”
Although Sensky doesn’t have the experience of playing a different position in the way that Breeden does, she was equally up to the challenge.
“It’s always been a part of my game, but I do it more now that I am here,” Sensky said.
Breeden has been an important influence on Sensky, both in her ability to play the ball and her experience as a defender at the college level.
“It’s nice having experience in the back,” Sensky said. “I am able to take stuff that she does and put it into my game.”
Breeden is a senior and her presence on defense will be missed next year, but Sensky has shown that she can handle being the leader for the Bobcats. She’s already stepped into that role as only a sophomore this year, and Sensky will only become a more important figure for Ohio as she continues to develop.
“She’s an intense competitor and she wants to be the best,” Rodgers said. “She wanted to be in (a leadership) role and has played that role for her club and high school teams and we have to help her evolve as a leader.”
With Sensky and Breeden possibly playing their last game together this weekend, Ohio will continue to rely on their experience to guide it to its first-ever MAC Championship.