Strong goaltending is crucial for any soccer team to be successful and while offense is important, possessing at least one capable and durable goaltender is necessary for any team to make a playoff run.
For the Slippery Rock University women’s soccer team there is not one, but two goalies who have shared the limelight. Starting goaltender Kylie Downs and backup Emma Yoder have helped their team to a 6-1-1 record (4-1-1 in conference) while recording a .956 save percentage on 43 shots faced.
Downs, a senior, has some of the strongest numbers among Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) goalies. She ranks third in the entire conference in goals-against average (.396), save percentage (.900), and shutouts per game (four for five).
Although Downs has been putting strong numbers, a minor wrist injury allowed for Yoder, a freshman, to make her first collegiate start against Clarion University on Sept. 12.
Rock head coach Jessica Griggs said the decision to start Yoder was one that was made right before the start of the game. Yoder said although surprised, she was prepared to start her first game.
“I found out like seven minutes before the game that I was going in,” said Yoder, laughing. “You just have to try to stay ‘warm’ and be mentally ready because you never know when Kylie is going to get hurt.”
Against Clarion, Yoder recorded eight saves on 11 shots as The Rock went on to win 1-0. Just three days later, Yoder found herself starting in net for the second straight game, this time against Walsh University, where she recorded another eight saves while facing 14 shots. The Rock went on to win the game 1-0. For her performance in both of the games, Yoder was named the PSAC Women’s Soccer Athlete of the Week.
Yoder acknowledged receiving the weekly distinction but said she was not able to do it alone.
“It’s awesome to get it, especially as a freshman,” Yoder said. “I have to credit a lot to my defense. We have a couple of juniors and sophomores in front of me, and they just did a great job and it was awesome for us to get that award together.”
During the first half of the game against Clarion, Yoder acknowledged that she was nervous, primarily because it was the first game of her young collegiate career. With the help of Downs and fellow backup Kara Seebacher, Yoder said she was able to relax and settle in.
Griggs said that one of the traits that makes Yoder so effective in goal is her height.
“Have you seen her height?” said Griggs, instantly. “She’s 6’1, that’s the first trait that helps her. She’s a really studious athlete so she wants to know more about the game and become more knowledgeable in her role.”
Griggs continued and said Yoder has great footwork while also being a great communicator on the field.
Yoder said she has a solid relationship with the rest of the defense on and off the field. Sometimes, it can be hard to have a reciprocal relationship with multiple goalies, but the defense has done a good job and all three goalies have a strong relationship with them, Yoder said.
Griggs said that she is certain Yoder has learned about a number of different aspects of the game from Downs.
“One thing I told Emma to watch with Kylie a little bit is that Kylie is very witty,” Griggs said. “She’s very cheeky in terms of some of the decision making she has and in terms of managing the game, and those are not something we can teach Emma. Those are things that she has to learn from a goaltender like Kylie.”
On the season, The Rock has allowed two goals, both of which came on the Sept. 5 loss against Indiana (Pa.) University. They are currently tied with Kutztown University in goals allowed on the season, but currently lead with a .242 goal against average percentage. All of the women’s wins have been 1-0 shutouts except for the 6-0 win against Mansfield University on Sept. 8.
Although strong defensive numbers, The Rock’s offensive numbers have been subpar. In six out of their first eight games, the Green and White have tallied just one goal in each of the games. Griggs said she was unaware until recently that all but one of their wins were 1-0.
“We’re going to be having a conversation with the girls about insurance goals and how those can help the stress of the game,” said Griggs, chuckling. “The PSAC is a tight conference and if you look across the board, most of the games are one-goal games. I think we could do a little better than that but luckily we have strong defense to back us up.”