Having a first-year varsity player as the last line of defense can be a risk.
The odds didn’t’ deter Canyon, Saugus and West Ranch highs from taking the plunge and having freshmen in starting goalkeeper roles.
“Usually they’re really energetic and have a lot of ambition and have a lot to prove because they’re only freshmen,” said Saugus goalkeeper coach Maddie Hebert. “So they want to be proving to the foothill league and their team and their coach that they belong on varsity.”
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Hebert has been working with Madalynn Moreno when starting goalkeeper Hailey Billesbach was sidelined two weeks before league due to a concussion.
She quickly became comfortable in the position. In Foothill League play, she’s made 22 saves and only allowed two goals.
“At first I wasn’t good at gripping the ball,” Moreno said. “Mostly nerves, but (the defense) would help me clear it out as soon as it deflected off of me or they would tell me where they want it to go or they would give me a ball back and then I would get it up.”
Having the connection with the back line is essential for a goalkeeper, but can be hard to accomplish as a freshman.
Learning to lead returners and upperclassmen was particularly difficult for West Ranch’s Allison Jacobs.
“At first it was clear that she was kind of timid and she wouldn’t say anything to us during the game, she would say it to us after,” said Wildcats defender Abby Ashlock.
“We had a meeting as our starting defense and her, and we said listen, you’re back there, you’re the starting goalkeeper, yell at us. Tell us what to do, be a leader back there. We’re going to listen to you, we respect you. Go for it.”
Jacobs, who has seven shutouts this season, has some experience at the keeper position from club soccer, but was expecting to be a defender at the varsity level.
“First I had to get used to not being on the field,” Jacobs said. “I didn’t know positioning and where to stand at what time so I had to focus on everything.”
The skills from her former spot on the field have come in handy, though. She can read balls and predict the movements of oncoming players, which dictates her movement in the net.
Jacobs has started for her team since the beginning of the season, as has Canyon High’s Aubrey McKessy, who has 93 saves in all this year.
According to assistant coach Marina White, going with McKessy was a unanimous decision. To her, having a freshman is an opportunity to mold a varsity goalie.
“I’m excited because I know I’m going to have her for a while,” White said. “So I get to build her up into what we want, but if you saw her out there you wouldn’t know she was a freshman.”
But perhaps this crop of keepers’ biggest benefit is their lack of experience.
“Some (players), they try to place teams as they were last year,” McKessy said. “Like, this team, last year we beat them a lot and just not knowing (the teams), it’s like I’m going into it as a fresh start. I have no background with this team, they don’t know me, I don’t know them. So it’s just easier to see them.”
With the Foothill League’s unpredictability so far this season, that advantage could be the fine line between a win and a loss.