Maddie Schulte had an unceremonious introduction to goalkeeping.
It came back when Schulte was 11 years old, when her club soccer team’s starting keeper didn’t show up for a match. It was an important match, too – one that would determine the top team in the division.
With her team needing a goalie, Schulte tried her hand in the net. The opposing team scored 10 goals on her, and her team lost 10-0, but Schulte ultimately found a new favorite position.
"She kept not showing up until the point where she actually quit, so I was the permanent replacement, and I started training after that,” said Schulte, a senior at Lambert. “I ended up falling in love with the position."
These days, Schulte is one of the top goalkeepers in the area. In fact, opposing offenses have scored just three goals on Schulte and the Longhorns in 10 matches this season.
Lambert senior Hannah Hubbard also got her start by being
thrust into goal.
"For me, our goalie got injured and we were in a shootout, so I ended up stepping up and I got the goalie bug, I guess you could call it," Hubbard said.
So, what characteristics make goalies stand out?
"A lot of it's instincts,” Lambert girls soccer coach Scott Luthart said. “When you're young and you're starting out, everybody gets a shot at goalkeeper. I managed to coach club soccer and do the developmental stages, too. Obviously, good hands is big; good lateral movement. A lot of our basketball players make good goalkeepers. Back in my Meadowcreek days, I turned a football tight end into a goalkeeper, and he was one of the best we had at that time."
A lot of those traits don’t show up on the stat sheet, though. And if you’re watching from the stands or on television, you might not realize the necessity of goalies staying involved with the play, even when they don’t have the ball.
"You have to be a leader first of all, because you're one of the only people that just like stands back and sees everything,” Denmark junior Newsha Mirfendereski said. “You have to make sure everyone is doing what they have to do and adjust them, pretty much."
Mirfendereski made 77 saves last season as a sophomore and has the Danes’ boys soccer team up to No. 6 in the Class 4A coaches’ poll, the highest ranking in school history.
Mirfendereski said he feels that leadership comes naturally.
"I guess it just depends on the person,” Mirfendereski said. “I'm a pretty vocal person, I would say. From my past coaches, they say goalkeepers either have to be crazy or just loud in general. It's one or the other. I say I'm a little bit of both, to be honest."
That recklessness is inherent when playing a position where you are the last line of defense between the ball and the back of the net.
"I don't even know if this stat was true, but my coach told me that one in every 200 balls on a breakaway will actually hit your face,” Schulte said. “Maybe I trusted him a little too much, but I just kept that in mind, even if I believed it or not. And I just stuck to it."
Mirfendereski calls improving his reflexes one of the most important things he does in his training.
At practice, he’ll turn his back to the ball. Then, once he hears someone kick the ball at him, he’ll quickly turn around and try to stop the ball.
He even sees his quick reflexes spill over into everyday life.
"Say, like, if I'm trying to drink my water and I accidentally knock it off the desk, many times before my hand just falls underneath the water bottle and just grabs it,” Mirfendereski said with a laugh. “It just happens."
Sean Snarey makes it a point to train his hand-eye coordination.
The starting goalie for South Forsyth’s boys lacrosse team, Snarey said part of his training involves juggling and jump roping.
Snarey began his lacrosse career as a defender before stepping in goal. He calls changing positions “the best decision I’ve ever done.”
He makes it a point to be a constant communicator with his defense.
"I have a very distinct voice out there and I try to be the loudest I could ever be on the field,” Snarey said. “That's what I try to do, is always be the loudest person out on the field."
Communication is one reason why Lambert’s defense has had so much success, Schulte said.
"We made a joke, like, bring a space heater. Honestly, the connection we have with our back line is probably the most vital thing that's saved us,” Schulte said. “Without communication with your back line – I mean, it's even happened to me in some of these games. You'll get caught in awkward moments, and if you don't have that communication and the other team capitalizes, that's all that matters at the end of the day, is what we put on the scoreboard."
Hubbard has seen her confidence grow since her first start in goal, which has been imperative in shaping her into the keeper she is now.
"That's what I've honestly had a hard time working on when I was younger, was confidence,” Hubbard said. “All my coaches would always tell me, 'You need to develop that confidence.' I've definitely improved a lot."
Hubbard and Schulte are both seniors and, coincidentally, both play the same position.
But instead of a rivalry, the competition between the two players fostered a friendship.
"In my experience, especially when (keepers) are competing for a spot, it's far and few to have someone like a connection that we've had,” Schulte said. “I mean, honestly, our whole goalkeeper program, we both made it a point last year to make sure that we're always behind each other and completely supporting each other. Every morning we're together, so we just thought we might as well make a family out of it – and that's what it's been since I got here in my sophomore year."
Hubbard and Schulte train with Lambert’s other goalkeepers at 6 a.m. three to four times a week. After position training, they go to class, then prepare for a full team practice following school.
Hubbard and Shulte’s friendship is part of a larger community comprised of Lambert’s goalies that extends into their off-field lives.
The goalies spend birthdays together, summer vacations – Lambert’s boys and girls goalies even went on a trip to Six Flags together last summer.
On the field, goalkeeping also allows for unforgettable moments, where keepers test their mettle in one-on-one situations.
"Honestly, just making big saves in general,” Mirfendereski said. “Just the crowd and everyone chanting, 'Yeah, let's go.' You know all eyes are on you, especially, once that shot's made. Everyone's praying that you make that save. Once it's made, it's an amazing feeling."
The same is true in lacrosse, where a critical save can swing momentum and fuel an entire game.
"The best rush is after that first quarter, when you get that first-quarter shutout and you guys are just clicking,” Snarey said. “That is just contagious. It carries over throughout the game. You feel invincible and you feel like you can take down everyone."