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Abby Boyan, freshman midfielder from Spring Lake, New Jersey, puts pressure on Indiana goalkeeper, Bethany Kopel, during the University of Georgia soccer game against the University of Indiana on Friday, August 25, 2018, at the Turner Soccer Complex in Athens, Georgia. The University of Indiana and the University of Georgia tied. (Photo/Christina R. Matacotta, crmatacotta@gmail.com)

Prior to last week, Georgia soccer head coach Billy Lesesne didn’t have to think about who to pencil into the defensive lineup. For 11 games, it was simple: Caroline Chipman at left-back, Katie Higgins and Kayla Bruster at center-back, and Cecily Stoute at right-back.

Everything changed when Higgins, one of the team’s captains, tore her ACL on Sept. 25 in practice. She collapsed to the ground and eventually limped off the field after what looked like a routine struggle for the ball during a scrimmage.

With the absence of Higgins in Thursday’s 1-0 loss against No. 12 South Carolina and Sunday’s 5-0 loss to No. 25 Vanderbilt, Georgia has experimented with different starting lineups.

Kristen Edmond replaced Higgins against Vanderbilt, and Abby Boyan started at right-back on Thursday, forcing Stoute to move to center-back for the first time all year.

Boyan said she is actually more comfortable on defense because she played on the backline for her club team in high school.

“I wouldn’t really consider it a new position,” the freshman said. “I was definitely more comfortable [on defense] than midfield because I’ve played there longer. And I definitely like it there a little more... Outside back, I have everything in front of me...It’s easier to attack. Midfield, it’s a lot more running.”

The Bulldogs are still experimenting with possible replacements for Higgins. Although Boyan may have the experience and the love for defense, Lesesne isn’t ready to permanently move her.

One reason why he started Boyan was because she was familiar with South Carolina’s forward Luciana Zullo, who played with Boyan on the same club team in New Jersey.

Lesesne thought that Boyan could use her knowledge of Zullo to the team’s advantage.

“Abby knew her quite well, and [Zullo] has been very dangerous for them,” Lesesne said. “So we wanted to negate her speed and athleticism, and Abby did a pretty good job of that.”

With Higgins out for the year, Georgia will use a rotating cast of defenders. As a result, the team is working on communication in the backline.

“We just had to adjust to a different formation,” Kayla Bruster said. “Cecily [Stoute] is obviously a really good attacker out wide, so we just had to possess more, gel more, talk to each other more. We’ve been working on communicating...We actually had to communicate more since we weren’t used to all being together. So I think we actually worked that part out well.”

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