It takes a certain type of mentality to be a goalkeeper.
Just ask Nebraska senior Emma Stevens.
“You have to be willing to sacrifice everything you have on any given moment,” she said.
Although she’s never had a serious injury, she’s been kicked in the head, tackled and taken out of the box. There’s been a few stitches along the way, too.
She was thrown into the position 12 years ago and discovered she liked the demands of the job.
“I’m kind of used to the pressure and responsibility,” she said.
Stevens is a key part of a defensive unit that has helped No. 24 Nebraska (9-3-1, 4-1) earn a share of the Big Ten lead with No. 11 Penn State heading into Friday’s 6 p.m. match at Purdue.
Stevens stopped four shots last week against Iowa to earn her career-best ninth victory of the season and the 27th of her career. She has 226 career saves, 13 behind NU record-holder Erin Miller. She’s also second in minutes (5,228), starts (58) and games (61).
“She has earned the respect of her teammates with her bravery, her improved ability in dealing with crosses, her capacity to make big saves and her ability to bounce back from errors,” NU coach John Walker said. “She has improved each year during her career and is playing at her highest level right now.”
Stevens redshirted her freshman year and said she and fellow fifth-year seniors Jordan Jackson and Stacy Bartels joke about how old they feel. The 22-year-old from Corona, Calif., is already working on her master’s degree in political science.
But her experience has helped her navigate a tough league that has ranked teams in Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin and NU. Minnesota is receiving votes.
“There is never an easy team in the Big Ten,” she said. “You have to come out hard and fighting every time out.”
Stevens said there is much more to being a goalie than stopping balls: leadership, distributing the ball, communicating with and organizing teammates and handling crosses and breakaways.
She doesn’t feel alone in goal because she has a defense with fellow seniors Ari Romero, Maritza Hayes and Kylie Greischar ahead of her to rely on. Sophomore Jaylyn Odermann also is seeing extensive playing time.
“It’s like a revolving door,” she said. “They help me, I help them. They do their job and I do my job.”
That job can be incredibly stressful at times, though. Nebraska is in a stretch of seven straight one-goal matches, going 6-1 in that span.
“You know if there is one breakdown, one little mistake, it could mean a tie or eventually become a loss,” Stevens said. “We just have to dig in and do what we can do to maintain that lead.”
There’s added urgency, too, because this is her final season.
Stevens and the other seniors don’t want to be the team that could have done more.
“We want to end it on a high note,” she said.