Marc VanDover hasn’t settled on a goalie, but for now, he has struck a compromise.
Since the start of last season, Emily Schuenemeyer and Emily Roark have competed to become Rock Bridge’s starting soccer goalkeeper.
Instead of picking one to play the whole game, VanDover, the Bruins’ coach, is playing both and finding good results.
Schuenemeyer and Roark have combined for seven shutouts and have led the Bruins to a 10-4-1 record while each playing a half per game.
“Really, I’ve always wanted one of them to earn the starting position,” VanDover said.
“Last year, one would play one game and one would play the next. In some respects, that’s the fairest thing to do because they’ve both earned starting positions. But then you have bigger games and in one game the competition wouldn’t be as strong and the next game would be against Hickman. So who do you play?”
VanDover’s solution has been to start Schuenemeyer and have Roark relieve her in the second half.
“It’s kind of evolved,” VanDover said. “If it’s 1-1 at halftime and Schuenemeyer is just playing great, I know that Emily Roark will play equally as strong.”
The goalies will meet Hickman (12-3-1) at 7 tonight at Walton Stadium.
Born to compete
Although VanDover’s formula has worked well, it has faults.
“There’s good and bad about both,” Roark said. “This year it’s good that we do get to play every game, but last year was good because you got to play the whole game and you got a better feel for it.”
Schuenemeyer agrees and said though she feels blessed to be playing, it has been tough to stay in a groove while in the goal frame.
“I’ll be making saves, and my game will keep getting better, and then at the end of the 40 minutes I’m done and it just kind of halts,” Schuenemeyer said. “I think soccer players are bred to be competitive, so you always want to be playing.”
Schuenemeyer said over time she has accepted the situation and has learned a lesson in patience. She also sees the positive side of the competition created by splitting time in goal. Last year, Schuenemeyer and Roark were honorable mention All-Region selections. Schuenemeyer was also second-team All-Conference and Roark was second-team All-District.
“If I see Emily make an incredible dive, that just encourages me to go out there and try even harder,” Schuenemeyer said.
Part of that competitive spirit comes from backing up and learning under Kira Reyes, a former Rock Bridge standout who played a year at the Air Force Academy before transferring to Missouri this fall.
“Our freshman and sophomore years Kira was the goalie, and she’s actually the starting keeper at MU now,” Schuenemeyer said. “It’s hard to compare her to anyone else I’ve ever played with. Being around her and seeing the things she does makes you want to be a better keeper.”
Reyes’ intensity and work ethic also made an impression on Roark.
“With the drills we did, we went 100 percent and we’re not going to slack off with Kira there.” Roark said. “We had fun, but we also worked really hard. I could watch her in practice and see something that I liked of hers and work on it in my game.”
Teamwork key to duo’s success
The Bruins have not won a district title since 2001, Reyes’ junior season. Schuenemeyer and Roark said their defense will be a key to Rock Bridge’s postseason.
“Between (defenders) Courtney Cumbie, Anna Gross, Ashley Tune, Kelly Simon and Meghan Coburn, any success that we’ve had in the goal box has to be credited to them,” Schuenemeyer said. “A goalie is only as good as her defense.”
Roark agrees with her teammate and said Simon, the Bruins’ sweeper, has played a key role in their success in goal.
“Our defense has been really strong,” Roark said. “Kelly Simon is a great sweeper and she’s going to Notre Dame (as a walk-on). That speaks for itself. She’s just phenomenal back there and I feel confident with her in front of me. Anna is also really capable back there and I feel confident in her abilities as well.”
VanDover said his senior goalkeepers bring different strengths to their position.
“Where as (Schuenemeyer) has better speed to the ball, Emily Roark has terrific hands,” VanDover said. “Both have good instincts to the ball and can smell that ball out when it’s coming on a cross. They’re both very vocal in the back, they’re both very demanding. They’re field generals.”
Off the field, Schuenemeyer’s superstitious nature separates her from Roark.
“I have to find a four-leaf clover 24 hours before every game if we’re even going to have a chance at winning.” Schuenemeyer said. “There’ve been games where I haven’t found one and I freak out. I won’t be able to focus until I’ve found that four-leaf clover. I get in these habits and if everything is going good I don’t want to change anything.”
Schuenemeyer also doesn’t change her game or practice socks until the Bruins lose.
She said that and her tendency to be nervous before games are the two biggest differences between her and Roark.
“I’m just not superstitious,” Roark said. “I wash my clothes every time, I can eat some meal before a game and then eat something totally different before the next game. But she’s got to have the same thing and that’s good because she’s found something that works for her and that’s helping her out.”
Next year, Roark will continue her career at Truman State. Schuenemeyer said she considered playing at Newberry (S.C.) College or at Shenandoah University and continuing with soccer, but that the journalism program at Missouri was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Roark and Schuenemeyer must remain focused on the games they have left, VanDover said.
“They always have to play their ‘A’ game,” VanDover said. “I’m still looking for one of them to win the starting position and that has to be in their minds, too.
“They understand why and they’re not especially happy with my decision because each of them sees themself as being the best keeper. They will be competitive to the very last game.”