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November 21, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU goalie learned to love soccer

MORGANTOWN — Sara Keane isn’t sure what path she might have followed growing up athletically, if any at all, but the one thing she was sure of back then is it would not have been as a soccer player.

What makes that such a startling revelation is that when West Virginia University takes the field against top seeded Virginia Tech at 6 p.m. Friday in Blacksburg, Va., for a second-round match in the NCAA Championships, they do so in no small part because of Keane’s play.

Consider that in the opening round game against Rutgers, Keane claimed a shutout, not only through regulation but through two overtime periods and then through a 3-0 penalty-kick phase.

Ten shutouts in 22 games and an average of three saves a game isn’t bad for someone who never saw herself as a player.

“My dad (Mike) got me into being a goalkeeper,” she said before Wednesday’s practice. “I wasn’t very good on the field. My dad was a soccer player, so he was really keen on getting me and my brother to play.”

It was easy with her brother, who took to the game and today plays at the University of Cincinnati.

It wasn’t, however, an easy thing to do with Sara.

“I didn’t really like soccer very much. I was terrible, and it wasn’t fun for me,” she explained.

If she wasn’t determined to play the game, he was and pushed the issue.

“He got me training with people around my area (Mt. Laurel, N.J.). As I started getting better, I started to enjoy it more,” she said. “I didn’t really want to become a goalie, but I didn’t really have a choice.”

Coach Nikki Izzo-Brown is quite happy with the way things turned out.

Being a goalkeeper isn’t exactly the most exciting job

on the field. Much of the time, especially if you play for a good team, as Keane does, the ball is on the other end of the field, which can give you time to study for that upcoming exam on nuclear physics.

But get under pressure in a 1-0 game or, as it was in the Rutgers game, when the season is on the line in a shootout, and it’s a different matter entirely.

“It’s a little nerve-racking, but our entire team has been in pressure situations before,” she said, speaking of a shootout. “It’s kind of something you just have to accept and just go with it.”

And when it’s in a one-and-done situation such as the NCAA?

“It definitely made me nervous. I tried not to let it get to me and stay as calm as possible,” Keane said.

There was one thing that made that possible.

“We had a great scouting report, which helped a lot. I was confident on where some of them were going,” she said.

And what can a scouting report do?

“More often than not the shooter goes to the same side every time, unless it’s that really good shooter who is capable of switching,” she answered. ”Our scouting report was spot on for Rutgers.”

Sort of.

“The first one I knew where she was going. The second one I just guessed right,” she said.

And why did she guess?

“The scouting report said she liked to go to my lower left, but that just didn’t seem right, so I picked knee high on my right side,” she explained.

And that’s where it went, and she was able to knock it away.

“When I don’t know which way they are going, I try to read their body language. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t,” she said, quite matter-of-factly.

The key in shootout or penalty-kick situations is to stay calm, and every goalie has his or her own way to do that.

“I just talk to myself, nothing serious, just stay relaxed. See, the shooter should score, so the pressure is on them. I just try to back up my team as much as possible, and I have their full support as well,” she said.

In the Rutgers victory that support came in the form of three penalty kick goals on as many tries while she was keeping her goal clear.

“I think the secret to succeeding is different for everyone,” Keane said. “Communication is important on and off the field. Having confidence, just to know you are capable to do what you want as long as you work hard and do your best. I think every goalie has a different mentality. Mine is to be there for my team when they need me and to make the easy saves and do my best to make the big-time saves when I have to.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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