I'm a little biased when I say this but I really believe it to be true: it takes a special person to be a goalkeeper. You're the field general and must have a commanding presence on the pitch. You can usually hear them barking out instructions from hundreds of yards away. A goalkeeper can simultaneously be the last line of defense and first line of offense as you look for the perfect opportunity to counter off a diving save you managed to grab with your fingertips.
The goalkeeper can be the bedrock in the foundation of a team for years. Take a quick peak at highlight reels of Kasey Keller's time on the U.S. Men's National Team for all the proof you'll need. For the last three seasons, Washington State junior goalkeeper Gurveen Clair has been just that for the women's soccer team. Sure, she's not quite to Keller's level but her relative importance to the Cougs can't be denied.
Clair has started since her freshman year, testament enough to her skill and prowess as a net minder. More impressive though was her 0.74 goals against average, good for third on the WSU all-time list. In a sport where both teams will sometimes go an hour and a half without scoring, allowing less than one per match, while not actually possible within the laws of the game since they score these things one at a time, is critically important for a team.
She continued her improvement as a sophomore before diving head long into what turned out to be a historic junior season. In what was arguably the best year in the team's history, notching a record-tying 14 wins, Clair set the record for goalkeeper wins getting credit for each and every one of the victories.
After two tough losses near the end of the season to Utah and Oregon State, Clair morphed into a brick wall. During a five game streak where her team scored 10 goals, Clair let just one ball slide past the goal line between the posts. Perhaps her most stunning performance came against No. 6 Stanford when she turned four Cardinal shots away while her teammates peppered the opposing goal with 12 shots and eventually put one in the back of the ol' onion bag for the upset. For her efforts, Clair picked up Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors.
What I've hopefully conveyed to you by now is just how good Clair is between the pipes. Allowing three-quarters of a goal per season her freshman year was good enough for a school record but why set a school record once when you can raise your own bar. Clair kept a goose egg on the scoreboard 15 times this season and allowed just 0.52 goals per game. It took her opponents two games to score an entire goal against her.
Believe it or not, I can make it even more impressive. In 14 WSU wins this year, Clair allowed just two goals for a mere 0.142 goals against average in those victories. When the Cougars picked up a goal, you could almost assure Clair wouldn't allow one. That's all you can ask of a goalkeeper who, even if their on top of their game for what amounts to two-thirds of your games in a season, will occasionally let one through.
Clair's teammate Micaela Castain is herself a finalist for this same honor and certainly garnered more accolades from publications than Clair. But I think even she would tell you the team's success began and ended with the person in the funny colored jersey wearing funky mittens.
Congratulations to Gurveen Clair, finalist for CougCenter's 2013 Kathi Goertzen Coug of the Year award.