At the beginning of the season, Illissa Blackshear was not between the posts for the Seton Hall women’s soccer team. Instead, the junior—who started 14 games for the Hall and ranked second in the Big East in GAA (0.93) and save percentage (.825) in 2014—was serving a six-game suspension for academic reasons.
The Pirates were left to rely on senior Gina Maiorana – who left the team six games in – and two players with no game experience, in sophomore Laura Dramis and freshman Anna MacLean. Taking on the starter’s job was MacLean. She started seven of the first eight games and tallied 44 saves while conceding 16 goals, including a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw at Mon- mouth in her fifth career start.
“I think Anna played great in my absence,” Blackshear said. “It’s very rare for a freshman to come into a program that already has three goalkeepers and get the starting job. In the games she played in I think she kept a lot of composure and you couldn’t tell she was a freshman.”
WhileMacLeanwasholdingher own, the reality was the offense was struggling as the 0-5-2 Pirates faced a 1-0 deficit in the 25th minute against Cornell on Sept. 17. That was when head coach Rick Stainton decided to pull MacLean and insert Blackshear.
“The decision was based on the need for a change at the moment,” Stainton said. “You hope any substitution or change would provide a spark to the team. We make change in hopes of capitalizing on opportunities. Blackshear embraced the fact that her role was to protect the goal and not concede anything further.”
Blackshear did not allow a goal in her first action of the season. However, the offense was unable
to find the back of the net and the team fell to 0-6-2 on the year. Blackshear’s performance was good enough for her to earn her first start of the season on Sept. 20.
The Pirates prevailed 1-0 in a double-overtime defensive battle with Albany for their first win on the season. Blackshear finished the game with the sixth shutout of her career. She had yet to allow a goal through 167 minutes of action.
A clean sheet and Big East Goal- keeper of the Week was just business as usual for the starter.
“My first game back I felt very comfortable,” Blackshear said. “The same goes for my first start this season against Albany.”
The league opener at St. John’s on Sunday, which was Blackshear’s second start, did not end as well. The Hall was shut out for the fourth time this year and fell 3-0.
“Anytime you do not earn a re- sult, it’s a little disappointing,” said Stainton. “However, we were very competitive for a long period of time against one of the country’s best teams in St. John’s.”
Stainton was not clear if Black- shear has solidified the starting role going forward. Despite the uncertainty, he cites the positive relationship between the goalies.
“The goalkeeping corp has an in- credible relationship,” he said. “All three (Blackshear, MacLean and Dramis) have worked extremely hard and push each other to be better. All three are capable of be- ing starters. The unfortunate part about goalkeeping is that there is only one position on the field.”
For Blackshear, the focus is not on her role, but rather the team.
“Moving forward, I think we just need to keep working as a team and supporting each other,” she said. “We need to defend as a unit and attack as a unit.”
Matt Zeigafuse can be reached at email@example.com or on twitter @mattzeigafuse.