UNA goalkeepers handle pressure of position

Goalkeeper Shelby Thornton reaches up for a save against Cumberland Sept. 27. The goalkeeper position is one of the most pressured positions in the sport, said UNA head coach Chris Walker.

In every sport, there is one position that receives more scrutiny than all the others.

In football, it is the quarterback. In baseball and softball, it is the pitcher. In soccer, it is the goalkeeper.

“The goalkeeper position is a tough one,” said head coach Chris Walker. “You’ve got to have very thick skin. A forward’s mistakes may not stand out as much, but if the goalkeeper gives the ball away, nine times out of 10 it’s in the goal.”

Because of steady goalkeeping, the coaches have not had to make many corrections.

The Lions have given up 14 goals in 12 games and have shut out opponents five times this season.

UNA’s starting goalkeeper, sophomore Shelby Thornton, has the best save percentage among conference goalies with at least eight starts.

“Shelby has been fantastic so far this year,” Walker said. “She sat behind Rachel Beninati, one of the best goalkeepers in the conference last year, and now she has stepped in and done a great job.”

Thornton said sitting behind Beninati has helped her become a better goalkeeper this season.

“Being able to watch her play (last season) has made me more comfortable with communicating with the team and my role as a goalkeeper,” Thornton said. “I learned a lot about controlling the game from (Beninati), and that has made me a better goalkeeper.”

Freshman goalie Kate Webster has seen some minutes for the Lions and has not given up a goal in the four games she has played this season.

“When called upon, Kate has been great this year,” Walker said. “She’s still learning and making the transition from high school to college, but she pushes Shelby every day in practice and competes.”

As good as the goalkeeping has been for the Lions, mistakes happen, including goals. Thornton said one thing all keepers need is confidence.

“Other players on the field can make a mistake and it’s not that big of a deal. If we make a mistake, it’s a goal.” Thornton said. “You have to be confident, and if you get scored on you immediately have to jump back up.”

Thornton said she learns a lesson every time she allows a goal. Once the play is over, the goalkeepers must shake it off quickly to prevent any additional goals.

“After I’m scored on, I’ll review everything that happened before the goal to see if I could’ve done anything better,” Thornton said. “But once the whistle blows, I completely forget about (the goal).”

Walker said the team’s self-confidence in each other is vital to his team’s success. To keep the ball out of the net, goalkeepers and defenders must communicate and have a good relationship on the pitch.

“The goalkeeper provides all the communication because she can see the entire field in front of her,” Walker said. “Communicating with defenders is important so the defense is on the same page. If the defenders aren’t comfortable, they’re going to defend a little bit different.”

Senior defender Melanie Leonida said communication between the goalie and the back four is crucial to preventing goals.

“It’s very important to be comfortable communicating with your goalkeeper,” Leonida said. “As a defender, I have to be able to trust my keeper and vice versa.”

Thornton said the team’s chemistry started slow, but evolved through experience and reliance on one another.

“It took a few games to get comfortable with the defenders, but once we did, it made the defense a lot better,” Thornton said. “You have to be able to trust them.”

Thornton, Webster and the Lions soccer team host conference foe Christian Brothers Oct. 16.