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Columbia Missourian

Stephens College goalkeeper overcomes obstacles to stay in net

By Megan Schuster
September 12, 2013 | 11:02 p.m. CDT
Stephens College women's soccer goalie Briannica Ponder practices with her teammates at Stephens Lake Park on Thursday.

COLUMBIA — Stephens College soccer goalie Briannica Ponder is being recognized nationally for her play in the net.

Ponder ranks fifth in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics in saves per game. She also ranks seventh in the NAIA in total shots saved, with 50 through four matches.

But Ponder is gaining little notice for facing another challenge.

Ponder has chronic Lyme disease, a condition for which she has been receiving treatment on and off for six years. This disease has caused symptoms such as fatigue, pain, confusion and dizziness for Ponder, and she even had to step away from soccer for a time.

"I played a lot in my childhood, but I stopped about seventh grade and had five years off," Ponder said. "Stephens was my first time back."

Ponder is in her second year at Stephens and in her second year on the team. Even playing at Stephens was difficult for Ponder at first. Her playing and practice time could be limited depending on her health, and she didn't tell many of her teammates about her condition. 

"I'm not sure how upfront or how open she was with her teammates towards the beginning of last season, so I'm not sure that everybody really understood 'this is why she's going to walk this warm up,'" coach Xander Kennedy said.

Despite the difficulties she has faced, Ponder says soccer is actually helping her manage the illness.

"Working out has started helping it," Ponder said. "It just strengthens everything in my body."

This year, Ponder has played every minute of every match in net, except for the first half of the first match. Kennedy said Ponder will continue to start in goal this season.

Kennedy said he has also noticed a new aggressiveness in Ponder's play. 

"Our very first practice this year, I saw it," Kennedy said. "She wasn't even in goal at that point. But she was out there, much more aggressively, kind of throwing her body into the play."

Kennedy said Ponder will continue to start in goal this season. Although Ponder admits to feeling afraid at times in the net when opponents and soccer balls are coming at her, she says her teammates keep her motivated.

"I have an awesome defense who are constantly encouraging me, my captains are always yelling encouragement to me, and having a great support system helps make it so that I can just keep going," Ponder said.

Ponder's dad has also been an important support system in her life. She was inspired to start playing goalie in the fifth grade because of him. Her dad was not only her soccer coach growing up, but he also played goalie for a soccer team while he was in the Marines.

"Early on, I know my dad kind of wanted to push me towards goalie, and I started playing it actually intently last year when I joined the team," Ponder said. "I grew up in a very sports-oriented family, and soccer was just the one I clicked with. I just always thought it was fun to be a goalie."

Stephens plays its next game at 4 p.m. Friday against Central Methodist University. The game will be played at Cosmopolitan Park.