Shuffling goalie duties keeps U players on feet

by Aaron Kirscht

There are two things athletes can do with criticism.
They can take it hard, letting it break their confidence and destroy their game. Or they can take it in stride, as a challenge to do better.
The goalkeepers for the Gophers women’s soccer team could have taken Coach Sue Montagne’s critical comments after Sunday’s Wisconsin game personally, but they didn’t.
Instead, Teresa O’Hearn and Dana Larson have committed themselves to improving their focus and intensity for the rest of the season.
The job that faces them is an important one.
Goalkeeping “is the last line of defense and the first line of attack,” assistant coach for goalkeeping Geno Loida said. “In a lot of ways, (the goalkeeper) has to be like a quarterback out there.”
Loida said that at this point in the season, O’Hearn and Larson are making mistakes they shouldn’t, most of which are mental, not physical.
But he stresses that even though the goalkeepers tend to catch the brunt of criticism for letting in goals, it’s still a team game.
“When we score a goal, it’s going to be a team thing,” Loida said. “When we give up a goal, it’s a team thing. We don’t point fingers.”
Still, a lot of the frustration that results from a tough loss will rest with the goalkeeper. O’Hearn said that if the coaches are disappointed with their performance, the goalkeepers must work that much harder.
“It means we have to pick it up in practice,” she said, “and find out what we need to work harder on.”
So what’s on the to-do list?
“We need to stay focused, and give it all every day (in practice),” O’Hearn said. “That will carry over into the games, and we’ll get better.”
Coming into the season, O’Hearn had started every game and was in goal for more than 90 percent of the total minutes played over the last two years. Not surprisingly, she’ll graduate from the soccer program holding every Gophers goalie record.
But she’s been challenged this year by newcomer Larson, who was unknown in recruiting circles until she sent a videotape to the Gophers coaching staff.
Let’s just say they called back.
“Dana is probably the best goalkeeper we’ve had since (Teresa) came into the program,” Loida said. “She’s really pushed (Teresa) hard, and that’s why she’s been getting more time — she’s got the ability.”
Larson broke O’Hearn’s starting-streak Sept. 20 at home against Wisconsin-Milwaukee and delivered a 1-0 shutout. She started again a week later against Northwestern, also at home, with the same result.
“I didn’t come (into the season) with any expectations,” Larson said. “I was just happy to be at Minnesota and ready to work my butt off.”
If Loida was right — that a goalkeeper has to “call the signals” on the field — then the Gophers may be looking at a quarterback controversy.
O’Hearn started the game with rival Wisconsin, but was replaced at the half with Larson after giving up a goal three minutes into the game. O’Hearn said that’s the first time she can remember being pulled at halftime in a big game. But she didn’t let Montagne’s decision get her down.
“It was frustrating — I thought I was playing well — but that’s why (Montagne) is getting paid to do what she does,” O’Hearn said. “If she wants me to come out, I have to respect that and take it as a challenge.”
Loida said despite O’Hearn’s history, she won’t be able to rest on her laurels. The start each week will go to the player with the best week of practice.
So the competition in practice promises to be just as intense as the game on the field. And both players are up to the task.
“I’m going to go out in practice every day expecting to start the next game,” Larson said.
“You have to practice like you’re going to start,” O’Hearn said, “or you won’t.”