Answering the call in her team’s time of need

  • Rivendell goalie Savannah Gray watches a Windsor shot on goal sail wide of the net during their game in Windsor, Vt., on Sept. 7, 2021. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley news file photograph — Geoff Hansen

  • Rivendell girls soccer coach Tim Goodwin throws to goalie Savannah Gray during practice in Orford, N.H., on Aug. 23, 2021. This season is the senior's first time playing the position. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — Geoff Hansen

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/4/2021 9:20:03 PM
Modified: 10/5/2021 10:00:13 PM

When Rivendell head girls soccer coach Tim Goodwin asked Savannah Gray how she felt about playing goalie, the senior’s initial thought was bleak.

Gray hadn’t played organized soccer since she was in elementary school. She’d never played goalie.

So when Goodwin asked his new player about stepping into an unfamiliar role, she immediately feared the worst.

“What went through my head was, ‘Oh, geez, I’m gonna lose teeth this season,” Gray said. “And (Goodwin) was like, ‘Don’t worry about it. I’ve only had like one goalie break their arm.’ (And I said) like, ‘Great, thanks!’ ”

Gray knew there would be pressure on her at goalie, one of the most important positions on the field. But she agreed to give it a try.

While some of Gray’s closest friends continued playing soccer as they got older, she spent much of her time riding horses. Her friends asked her to join the team every year of high school. She tried it out again as a freshman, but didn’t think her knees could take it.

Goodwin, who coached Gray in basketball, also tried to get her to play on the team throughout her high school career. He knew she was a good athlete and would be an asset. But going into this season, he feared he’d have low numbers. That changed the conversation.

“She always knew that she was welcome, she always knew she was wanted, but now she was really needed,” Goodwin said. “So I think that had a little bit to do with her at least thinking about it.”

She decided to try it one more time as a senior, to make sure she didn’t regret anything. And she liked it enough to stick around.

Goalie is a difficult position to take on completely fresh. Kids growing up serious about playing goalkeeper will often take on technical training outside of their normal team practice. It requires quick reaction time, ability to read a play as it develops, and good communication with the defense.

Early in practice, Gray said she wanted to duck out of the way when she saw balls coming toward her. Her initial confidence level was low.

She worked with Mike Gilbert, a Rivendell assistant coach and goalie coach at Rivers Edge Sports Club, at practices to learn the position. Gray said Gilbert has helped a lot.

“He teaches me where I should stand if there’s a ball flying through the air, or my stance if it’s a low ball,” Gray said. “When we have home games, he’s usually there talking me through the entire game. So that’s really helpful.”

Gray added that she’s still learning more about playing goalie, as she’s only been playing the position for a couple months and said she can always learn more.

Goodwin said Gray’s experience in basketball helped her with goalie. He said the body positioning of a goalkeeper is similar to playing defense in basketball.

“That part of it, she’s already been training her whole life for and already knew,” Goodwin said. “The only really strange part is catching a ball that’s going (fast), or at least deflecting it, and dropping to the ground, not just shuffling to the side but actually letting your feet go. She’s open to trying things and she picks things up quickly. I didn’t really have to become overly creative to get her to get it.”

Gray’s existing relationships with three of Rivendell’s four defensive starters helped with the communication. She knew sophomore Colleen Underhill, senior Alex McFate, and senior Iris Fukushima well, and that was helpful as she got acclimated to playing in goal.

She needed a little more time to get to know and develop that trust with sophomore German exchange student Lea Matea, the Raptors’ fourth starter on defense, but Gray said that came eventually.

During Rivendell’s first game of the season against Mill River, Gray’s sole focus was catching the ball when it came at her.

She said the rest of a game is a total blur because she was so nervous. After halftime of that game, she forgot to switch sides and went to the same goal she defended during the first half.

It didn’t take long for Gray to look the part, putting in a strong performance in Rivendell’s second game of the season against Windsor. She said she started to feel comfortable in goal by her fourth game.

That Windsor game showed Gray she belonged on the field.

But her favorite moment so far this season came in a home game against White River Valley in late September, when she made a save by jumping and hitting the ball over the goal.

It’s something she couldn’t have imagined herself doing just months before.

Gray feels like she’s come a long way in a short period of time since she started playing goalie.

“If you said I was going to be a goalie a year ago, I would have been like, ‘No way. I don’t have the coordination for that,’ ” she said. “But (I’ve found) out, I do.”

Seth Tow can be reached at stow@vnews.com.




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