March 28, 2008
Lincoln, NE (UWIRE) -- Ask a coach the most important position player on their team and the most likely answer you'll get is pitcher, guard, center fielder and quarterback.
For the Nebraska soccer team, Assistant Coach Wally Crittenden said the most important position is goalkeeper.
"The main concern with any position, but especially with the goal position, is the ability to establish consistent play," Crittenden said. "Being such a focal point of any team, if the goalkeeper is up, that's great, but if the goalkeeper is down, everyone knows it."
A goalkeeper, while on the tail end of the offense, is a focal point of communication, observing what they see on the field and relaying information to the defense so it can react quickly and efficiently.
In the fall season, that responsibility fell upon freshman Jessica Mills.
"Without a doubt she came in and she did very well in the beginning and did well throughout the year," Crittenden said. "However, (we) definitely want to make sure we kind of help her mature in her play with regards to consistency, leadership and presence."
Crittenden said Mills is hard at work fine-tuning those skill sets so she's better prepared for the spring and future fall season.
Mills said the coaches have continued to encourage her throughout the off-season and into the spring, and have told her she possesses athleticism and quickness and to maintain a presence to become an impact player for the Cornhuskers.
In the off-season, Mills and the coaching staff discussed the goals and aspirations for the net-minder, and she hopes that - with continued growth and development - she will not just be a great goalkeeper, but act as another defender on the field.
Crittenden said he's working with both Mills and Brittany Pfeil to extend their range to enhance the impact they can make. If the goalkeepers are confined to just 18 or 20 yards, it limits them to just goalkeeping duties, but if they can extend their range to 30 or 45 yards, Crittenden said the team would have an extra defender.
Crittenden also said Mills has matured a great deal off the pitch.
"Now she's getting so much better at bringing a consistent level to her training on a daily basis," Crittenden said. "She's adjusted to what student life is, with regards to the other aspects of college."
Mills said with a fall season under her belt, she's more comfortable in the net for the Huskers, but added that there is some strain.
"There is pressure, but it's not bad pressure," Mills said. "It's a good pressure knowing I can push myself to reach my potential, which I don't think I've reached yet."
Mills said she is continuing to grow as a player, and with so many aspects involved in the goalkeeper position, she's unsure when she'll fully peak.
Whether she reaches that potential this year, Mills already has the coaches eager to see what she can do this spring.
"I'm excited to see how she's matured; she's matured a lot since the season ended," Crittenden said. "If we can be more consistent and kind of make strides to extend her presence, she will be one of the best goalkeepers in the conference."
Mills will continue to work this Sunday when the soccer team faces off with Minnesota (9 a.m.) and Big 12 Conference foe Kansas (11 a.m.) in a doubleheader.
Last year, Minnesota finished up its season with a 9-8-2 overall record and was 5-5 in the Big Ten Conference.
Kansas finished last season with a 7-10-4 overall record and a 5-2-3 record in Big 12 Conference play.
"This team is made up of some strong women," Crittenden said of the Huskers. "The growth they've had in the two months is phenomenal. A lot of the issues we deal with were with consistency, professionalism and maturity in critical game moments. They've shown so far that they've matured and are ready for the task and know what to expect."
(C) 2008 Daily Nebraskan via UWIRE