PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – It has been a very special season for the La Salle University women’s soccer team. A 13-0-1 record has skyrocketed them up to #19 in the country.
And that’s not even the most impressive aspect of this campaign. In their 14 games, La Salle has allowed just three goals. Total.
The lynchpin of this defensive effort has been senior goalie Melissa Sanger. She has 12 shutouts on the season, and is third in the nation in goals-against average (0.211) and save percentage (0.933).
The Kingsway High School (South Jersey) graduate says that while this season has come out of nowhere to many observers, that’s not the case for anyone in the Explorers’ locker room.
“Coming into this season we knew as a team we wanted to make it something special,” Sanger tells KYW Newsradio. “Starting last January, the upper classmen, after falling in the (A-10) semifinals last year, knew we wanted to make it something special for all of us. And (from) the start of preseason, with everyone’s hard work getting the freshman on board, it has really just come full circle right now with everyone just focused on the little things.”
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The Explorers started the season by going 11 straight games without allowing a goal. They were actually the last Division I team in the country, men or women, to allow a tally. Sanger was in net for every one of those games, and her shutout streak of 1,094:57 is the fifth longest in NCAA history.
But Sanger says they took their run at the record book in stride.
“We were pretty conscious of it, but it’s not something that we truly focused on. We didn’t talk about it a lot because we knew that every game, other teams had potential to score on us. But as long as our backs and our defense stayed focused and took care of the little details during each game, we knew we would be fine,” she says.
Sanger says keeping a zero on the scoreboard is a top goal for the Explorers, helping to foster a “not on my watch” type of attitude among the defense.
“I think that actually started from our first game of the season. Our team, we like to take pride in our defending, and each defender, starting with our midfield back to our backs, they take it personally if somebody gets by them.”
The shutout streak ended October 7th against Dayton, but the Explorers still won that game 2-1 in overtime. The other two goals they’ve allowed came last time out, in a 3-2 overtime win over UMass.
This season has truly helped elevate the La Salle women’s soccer program, and it has helped Sanger emerge as one of the nation’s top keepers.
When did she really began to focus on life between the pipes?
“I guess starting in middle school and high school is when I started playing some games in the net. I still liked playing on the field, running around and scoring goals. But then toward the end of my high school career I sat down with my father, asked him, ‘Well, Dad, I’m starting to look at college, what do you think? Field player or goalkeeper?’ He’s, like, ‘Well, why don’t you go for goalkeeper?’ And I think another thing that led me to that was my brother was a goalkeeper. So I was just following in his footsteps.”
Needless to say it has worked out quite well for Melissa Sanger and the Explorers, who now have their sights on an Atlantic 10 title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. They will look to take another step towards those goals tomorrow night when they visit Charlotte.
Reported by Matt Leon, KYW Newsradio 1060