GVSU adds transfer, yet to name starter in net
In 2013, the Grand Valley State University women’s soccer team breezed through its competition en route to an NCAA Division II National Championship.The 24-0-1 season was remarkable in many ways for the Lakers, not the least of which took place on the goal line, where keeper Abbey Miller raked in a number of GVSU and NCAA records. Miller allowed just four goals the entire season and posted 16 shutouts, earning her GLIAC Goalkeeper of the Year honors.
Miller, like the three-time NSCAA All-American before her, has graduated. Her fourth year of eligibility expired following last season, leaving the Lakers with a void in their anchor position.
Now, first-year head coach Jeff Hosler and his staff face an early challenge. The season opener looms just weeks away and, while other assignments on the field are beginning to become clear, the goalmouth remains covered in a cloud of haze.
Standing in the uncertain fog are four players: Andrea Strauss, Mackenzie Hurlburt, Paige Pryson and Jennifer Steinaway. Strauss, the lone senior of the four, saw action in three games for GVSU last season. Hurlburt, a sophomore, is a recent transfer from Albion College where she exerted impressive individual efforts to keep games close in 2013. Pryson and Steinaway are both freshmen, but either one could steal the spot with an impressive showing in the preseason.
After the first week of tryouts, only one thing is certain when it comes to the goalkeeping enigma: It’s close.
“The race is tight,” said Annette Stromberg, a graduate assistant who primarily works with goalkeepers. “Some standout in certain areas and some standout in others. It’s all about finding the one that’s very good in every area.”
With a race this tight, individual intangibles could push any of the four goalies into the coveted top spot on the depth chart. Strauss’ seniority and understanding of the team, the league and the expectations may give her a slight edge on the others during the first few weeks of the season. Strauss was Miller’s primary backup during last year's title-winning campaign and made two saves while contributing to three partial shutouts in the three games she played in.
As the only senior of the group, Strauss acknowledges the heightened sense of pressure on her to make an impact in her final lap for GVSU. Regardless of the outcome, Strauss will undoubtedly contribute to the team.
“I’m the only returner so I know that girls might look up to me,” she said. “I want to be that figure that goalies, and other underclassmen, look up to. You obviously want to carry the GVSU tradition with you.
“I’m ready to take on the challenge.”
Collegiate experience, save for Strauss’ 61 minutes, is elusive within the group. The only other candidate to have seen time between the pipes during a college match is Hurlburt.
Hurlburt was staring uphill nearly every game at Albion last season. As a freshman, she started 18 of 19 games. In most games, the onslaught of shots was uninterrupted. She made 116 saves and allowed 49 goals over the course of the season, good for a respectable .703 save percentage. For comparison, Albion’s offense only mustered 98 shots on goal the entire season.
Hurlburt and the Britons finished last season with a 4-15-1 record, but things were on the verge of shaking up for the young goalkeeper. Albion squared off against Alma College twice in 2013, dropping both games 3-1. On Alma’s sideline was Hosler, and he was impressed with what he saw.
“I thought (Hurlburt) was the best goalkeeper in the league last year,” Hosler said. “She has a lot of raw talent but hasn’t been polished in her training yet. She’s got the ability to make that quick reflex save that you can’t really teach.”
If Hurlburt does see the field this season, however, she’ll see flow and talent to a different pedigree than what she was accustomed to at Division III Albion. Rather than being intimidated by the elevated skill level, Hurlburt welcomes it.
“I like the fact that I have the opportunity to rise to the level of competition and prove myself,” she said. “It’s going to make me a better player, which is what I’m really looking forward to.”
Despite an absence of NCAA experience, either of the two freshmen in the hunt could find themselves backing the Division II title defenders come opening day.
Pryson (Jackson, Mich.) is described by Hosler as “the most explosive” of his goalkeepers. As a junior in 2013, she was a Michigan High School Soccer Coaches Association Division III Honorable Mention honoree.
Steinaway, also a true freshman, brings a strong all-around game when she steps on the pitch. She was a four-year varsity starter at Pinckney Community High School, where she was a two-time captain and earned multiple awards.
Over the next couple of weeks, the four candidates will continue to duke it out for the top spot.
In past years, the job has been made simpler thanks to a stingy defense and a team that stresses ball control. Laker goalies were called on to make just 63 saves last season as GVSU outscored the opposition 88-4.
Abbey Miller might be gone, but GVSU's talent and tradition remain. The Lakers are poised for another explosive season, but only time will tell who the eleventh player on the pitch will be when the season kicks off at home against Quincy on Sept. 5.