The most important position on the soccer pitch is the goalkeeper. The goalie is the last line of defense in a sport where points are few and far between. Even one goal could cost a team a match.
“Everybody knows that a goalkeeper is a different breed of person,” said Allison Whitworth, the assistant soccer coach at Middle Tennessee State University. “You’ve got to have a different mind set to be a goalkeeper than a regular player. There is a lot of pressure that comes with the job, but you also thrive on that pressure. You want to make the big save and be the hero to help the team. It’s a huge adrenaline rush when you make a big save. It’s a fun position to play.”
For the MTSU women’s soccer team, the play from its goalkeepers – freshman Kelsey Brouwer and senior Jessica Gilchrist – has been one of the reasons why the Blue Raiders are tied for the top spot in the Sun Belt with a 7-3 record.
After last Sunday’s 2-1 win against Arkansas State, which included two point-blank saves by the freshman from Franklin to preserve the Blue Raider win. Brouwer is currently ranked in the top six in five SBC defensive categories. Whitworth has been pleased with the play of both goalies so far this season.
“They are both tremendous players,” Whitworth said. “The hardest part about being a goalkeeper is that one of them can only be on the field at that time, and both deserve to be out there. Both of them work really hard, and they are very talented goalkeepers. They have both done a lot for us this year.”
Brouwer and Gilchrist get an opportunity to learn from Whitworth, who has played the position in the SEC and the now-defunct Women’s Professional Soccer league.
Both goalkeepers believe they have learned a lot of lessons from Whitworth, who has made them better at the position.
“I love working with Coach Whitworth,” Brouwer said after the Sept. 23 victory over ASU. “She instructs me everyday. She has so much knowledge from playing at those levels.”
Whitworth enjoyed a successful college and professional career before joining the Blue Raider coaching staff before the 2011 season.
She played at Auburn from 2005-08, and set several records at the school and in the SEC.
Whitworth finished her career with a school record of 356 saves, including a conference-high of 132 during her final season as a Tiger.
She also had 22 career shutouts, which put her in the top 10 in SEC history. Also, she was named All-SEC first team during her senior campaign.
Whitworth broke more barriers when she was selected by the WPS’s FC Gold Pride in the league’s 2009 draft.
She was the first Auburn soccer player to be selected to a professional league.
Two summers later, Whitworth took her talents to Georgia as a member of the Atlanta Beat. The WPS folded in May of this year.
“It was an awesome experience,” Whitworth said. “The first couple of games I played I had the most anxiety and most butterflies I had ever had in my life. It was a dream I had when I was younger, and getting that opportunity to be a part of all three seasons of the WPS was a dream come true. It was fun and I got to experience the different cultures of soccer.”
Since joining the MTSU coaching staff in 2011, the goalies put up some impressive numbers under her tutelage.
During the team’s 10 wins last season, nine of them were clean sheets for the goaltenders.
The Blue Raiders also only allowed a goal or less in nine of their final 10 SBC matches.
This season, the Blue Raiders have only given a season-high three goals, twice in losses to Ole Miss and Memphis.
It also has four shutouts so far this season. Whitworth is hoping the MTSU goalkeepers continue the momentum throughout the rest of schedule.
“One of goalkeepers has got make big saves, simple saves, and they got to make good decisions,” Whitworth said.
Gilchrist believes the biggest thing that Whitworth has taught her is the simplest idea of playing the position.
“Our No. 1 rule, no matter what, is to make saves,” she said.