Taking one for the team

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This season, the women’s soccer team found themselves without a goaltender until Stefanie Webster, a midfielder-turned-goalie, seized the opportunity and saved the season that almost never was. Sean Tepper reports

Stefanie Webster was a rookie goaltender for the women’s soccer team, but she played with the poise of a fifth-year veteran.

That’s because she was one.

When the team lost both of its goalies from last season, they had nobody to turn to but Webster. She seized the opportunity and blossomed into an all-star netminder, saving her team from a season that would have been disastrous without her steady presence.

“The first goalie was graduating and the second goalie wasn’t interested in coming back so we had no goalies [to start this season],” explained interim head coach Ramin Mohammadi.

In their last home game of the season, the team was in a must-win situation. In a classic case of Murphy’s Law, they just so happened to be playing against the Carleton Ravens, a team they’ve managed to beat only three times in the last eight years.

With 20 minutes left in the game, the Rams held a tenuous 1-0 lead. But then a Carleton striker got behind Ryerson’s defence.

It was all up to Webster.

As if it’s second nature, she instinctively charged the striker and dived for the ball. Though she didn’t cover the ball, she interrupted the shot long enough to dive to her right and shut down Carleton’s best chance of the afternoon.

Thanks to her spectacular save, the Rams won and lived to fight another day. Though they failed to make the playoffs by one point, they would never have been in the hunt if it weren’t for Webster.

“I’ve been around Ryerson soccer for five years and we’ve always lost [to Carleton],” Webster said. “To beat our archenemies in my last game feels awesome.”

In retrospect, Mohammadi had nothing to worry about with Webster in net. But he was naturally panicked by the thought of going into the season without a goalie and called former Rams head coach Peyvand Mossavat for advice, who suggested using Webster.

It couldn’t have worked out any better.

Suiting up for all 16 regular season games, Webster posted a 1.5 goals against average and six shutouts. Her 4-6-6 record betrayed just how solid she was for the young Rams team.

“This is my last year and I’m sure the rookies would get more playing time over me, so I’m glad I still get to finish my season and my years at Ryerson on the field,” Webster said.

The transition to netminding was easy for Webster, who played goalie in her youth. Still, she had never played against such a high level of competition and was noticeably jittery at the start of the season.

“My first game I was terrified, extremely terrified, but the girls were there to support me. We lost, but in the end it was about overcoming those initial fears. That way, when the season started I was mentally there, mentally focused. I wasn’t nervous anymore,” she said.

The coaching staff was understandably nervous too, but those fears were quickly allayed when they saw her in action during their pre-season road trip.

“We were all very anxious to see how things would work out, but then we came back from that trip [and I said to my coaches] that we have found our goalkeeper,” Mohammadi said.

“She makes great decisions when she comes out [of her net],” Rams goalkeeper coach Henrich Svetko added. “She never hesitates. She has very good foot skills and sometimes she doesn’t even have to dive because she can get to the ball because of her footwork.”

Perhaps the most important factor in Webster’s superb play is her mental toughness. Though she pushes herself hard, she is able to keep her composure when things don’t go her way.

“The hardest part is the feeling of helplessness when someone scores on you,” said Webster. “I can’t physically go on the field to make a tackle. All I can do is make the next save.”

For her incredible performance in a pinch, Mohammadi said Webster should be voted onto the all-star team. It would be the perfect farewell for the soon-to-be graduate of the early childhood education program.

“It’s unfortunate that she graduates this year because she has been fantastic,” Mohammadi said. “If I was choosing [for the all-star game], I would choose her as one of the two goalies.”

Next year, the team will once again have to search for a goaltending replacement.

They can only hope their new goalie will be as pleasant a surprise as their last one.

Photo: Chelsea Pottage

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