Women's Soccer

Syracuse women’s soccer’s Jessica Vigna transitions to center back and anchors back line

Tony D. Curtis | Staff Photographer

Jessica Vigna has played every minute for Syracuse this season and has cemented herself as a staple on the Orange's back line.

Practice ended, and the women’s soccer team rushed to grab their bags and water bottles. The players tossed their heart monitors in the storage house, and loaded their belongings into their cars to get ready for class.

Jessica Vigna remained on the field, taking headers and practicing her clearance.

“She hates taking headers,” head coach Phil Wheddon said. “Absolutely hates them.”

Standing in front of the box, Vigna received toss after toss from assistant coach Kelly Lawrence, who kept feeding her headers. She would head them to the outside of the pitch and then clear the ball with her left foot. She doesn’t like it, but it’s necessary for her transition.

The junior center back has been the veteran of Syracuse’s defense and has helped lead the Orange (7-4-2, 0-3-1) to its best start since 2003. Vigna has started all 13 games for Syracuse and has yet to come off the field during a game.

For most of her high school career, Vigna played in the midfield. In her transition to the collegiate game, Vigna still has not solidified herself in one position. Syracuse has allowed 10 goals in its last three games, all losses, and will need Vigna to help stop the Orange’s slide during its matchup with Virginia Tech at 7 p.m. Thursday at SU Soccer Stadium.

“She’s been that rock in the back for us,” goalie Courtney Brosnan said.

The Orange recruited Vigna to play in the midfield, but Wheddon moved her to center back when she was a freshman. The following year she moved back to the midfield she said before being shifted to the defense again this year.

Vigna said being a defender has restricted her freedom while midfielders can take more touches in more space. Starting alongside freshman center back Taylor Bennett, Vigna has helped to produce six clean sheets in the 4-1-4-1 setup for the Orange.

Wheddon recognized that Vigna is a midfielder and would prefer to play more on the attacking side of the ball, but in certain circumstances she has gotten her chance.

Syracuse and Rhode Island headed into the 89th minute tied at 0-0. With three seconds left before the final minute, a foul on Rhode Island led to a Syracuse penalty kick. Vigna marched up the line and blasted a shot past the outstretched arms of the Rhode Island goalkeeper for the game winner.

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Daily Orange File Photo

Growing up in the midfield and playing midfield her sophomore season, Vigna had to adjust her play style and work on different parts of her technical game to make sure the transition is smooth.

From the center back position there is not as much running as there is from the midfield, but there is more sprinting.

“I think I’ve gotten a lot quicker,” Vigna said. “Rather than coasting around before a sprint as a center-mid, playing center back is much more stop-and-sprint.”

She conceded though that her fitness has dropped playing as a back. Wheddon added that Vigna needed to improve on balls in the air and on her timing of the tackles when she made the switch.

Wheddon and Vigna both stressed the importance of heading for defenders, and that the timing has to be perfect in order to get proper clearance.

“We did a lot of individual workouts,” Wheddon said. “Working on headers off corners and long clearances so that she would work on timing where she caught the ball in the air so that it wouldn’t go straight up.”

She hated headers because she did not think that she was good enough at them for what she and the team needed. Her timing used to be off, she said, and she couldn’t clear the ball the way she wanted to.

But this year, her timing seems to be right. Wheddon explained that in most situations when Syracuse has conceded goals, it has not been the fault of the defense.

“They’re sticking to their marks,” Wheddon said. “They’re doing what they’re supposed to do.”

Most days, after practice now, the team scrambles away, loading into their cars and getting ready for class, but Vigna remains on the field taking headers and practicing her clearance. She is still adjusting to center back, but has remained the top option for the Orange and has anchored its defense.

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