SOCCER: Called into action

Joanie Baker

What could be worse for an NCAA soccer team than losing its starting, nationally ranked goalkeeper during the preseason?

Try losing its second-string goalkeeper as well.

That’s the case for the Hilltopper soccer team, which remains optimistic despite having to fill the position with a freshman defender who had never played the position before.

Freshman Wade Roepke didn’t know what he was getting into when he signed with Western as a defensive player. In just a few short months, he found himself standing in front of a goal for the first time in his career.

This, of course, was not the team’s original intention. But the starting goalkeeper, senior Daryl Sattler, broke his hand in a water skiing accident, and former goalie Brandon Moore decided not to play this season to focus on academics.

Someone had to be called to action, and that’s when Roepke was put between the pipes.

Sattler finished last season with a .743 save percentage and three shutouts. The team went 8-10-1.

Coach David Holmes seems to have complete faith in Roepke and is impressed at the progress he has made.

“Wade came to us as a defender. Now he’s playing a brand new position at the NCAA Division I level with no experience at all,” Holmes said. “Losing Daryl was a big blow, but I’ve been happy with what I’ve seen in the first five days of preseason.”

Roepke admits to feeling a little nervous about playing the new position, but said his teammates have been very helpful, and he feels confident when He said many people have the misconception that playing goalkeeper is easy and would be simple to pick up.

“It’s fun, but it’s hard work,” Roepke said. “Everyone thinks ‘Oh, goalie, that’s not work at all,’ but it’s definitely been a learning experience for me. It’s been hard pulling double duty, staying for practice and then goalie practice too.”

The team seems confident in its ability to stay competitive this season. One reason why they stay focused on their unanimous goal of getting to the NCAA tournament is that they are returning a more mature team this season.

Last year, five freshman started most games, yet this year there are only seven new players – including two transfers – joining the team. Senior captain Scott DeGaris looks forward to benefiting from experience.

“We were a young team, so now we have a year under our belts playing together and developing our chemistry as a team,” DeGaris said. “We do play some tough games, three of them against the top 15 in our tournament, but they should be good games. We play a lot at home, which gives us an edge.”

Holmes also sees those tough games ahead, but chooses to focus on the first game of the season at Lipscomb Aug. 29.

“We are now the underdogs against Lipscomb and Belmont, teams who have never beaten us before,” Holmes said. “Right now, we’re just looking at the first game. We’re trying to reconfigure to win important games to make us feel good about ourselves and get a good start on the right foot.”

Reach Joanie Baker at [email protected]