By Michael Renahan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY Park, PA - Coach Missy Doherty and her staff did not name a starting goalkeeper until three days before they took on University of Penn in an exhibition match in mid-February. The competition between freshman Emi Smith and senior Ayla Halus was fierce and brought the best out in both players.
Halus, a standout goalkeeper for the field hockey team, had gained experience with the team during the 2012 season. Both Halus and Smith exhibited talent to help the Lions in goal, but Smith emerged as the starter heading into the 2013 season.
She was a leader with a strong voice in the net, she had the confidence that she could take on anyone at any time, and she was able to forget quickly when she let in goals and get ready for the next play.
When media day came just three days before the exhibition match against Penn, Doherty said that she had decided to go with Smith as her starting goalkeeper. She was giving her freshman a vote of confidence at the same time allowing her young defense to grow together.
"Emi has just emerged as a really good goalkeeper. She just keeps getting better and better and better. I think it's a hard position to come into as a freshman, but she has really matured a lot in a short amount of time and I really think she is doing great for us," Doherty said at the team's media day.
Since being named the starter, Smith has played well through the first nine games and has been a crucial part of a strong first half of the season. She enters play on Saturday as the No. 42 goalkeeper in the nation with 60 saves, according to the NCAA. She is one of only eight freshmen to crack the top 45.
Currently, she has allowed an average of 11.39 goals per game on 26.9 shots. These numbers put her at No. 56 in the nation, but No. 7 amongst freshman goalkeepers.
Smith is the backbone of a very young defensive group. She has started every game so far in 2013 and has racked up over 460 minutes of playing time. Her teammates describe her as someone who just wants to win and wants to be the best every game.
Teammates also say the Colorado native has a short memory when she gives up a goal. She just focuses on the next play and prepares to make the stop.
Smith said she definitely has a short memory in games and it's hard to get her out of tune with a goal.
Alongside Smith through the first nine games has been assistant coach Amy Altig. Altig, a former goalkeeper herself, spent her playing career at James Madison University where she received All-CAA honors twice and ranked in the top 20 in division I play in both save percentage and goals against average during her senior year.
"I love [Coach Altig]. The reason I'm able to play as well as I have been this season is because of her," Smith said.
Smith also said her coach has taught her so much this season, and has significantly improved her game. She works one on one with Altig and easily notices her passion for goalkeeping.
During practice, the freshman gets to work with one of the more powerful offenses in the nation. She is competing against star attackers in Mackenzie Cyr, Maggie McCormick and Molly Fernandez. Working with these highly skilled shooters has only allowed her to adjust to the game quickly.
The freshman has also learned from other goalkeepers she has watched throughout the season. The Nittany Lions have already played against top notch goalkeepers like Lucy Ferguson from Penn, currently No. 24 in the nation in goals allowed per game. She has also seen Maryland's Kasey Howard who ranks No. 13 in the same category.
Smith is well aware when she has great opponents on the other end and she makes sure to watch them and see how they react to certain situations. She studies their game against her own and looks to improve her game across the board.
She is coming off a solid performance against Drexel where she saved 11 shots and helped secure her team's second win in a row. While she has struggled on the road, Smith has been outstanding at home. She has sixteen saves and has helped lead the Nittany Lions to an undefeated record at home.
This Saturday, Penn State welcomes Florida and their top tier goalie Mikey Meagher. Meagher, currently ranked No. 2 in the nation in goals allowed per game, has been on the top of her game during the Gator's undefeated season. She allows on average only 5.81 goals per game.
Smith did recognize some areas of her game where she would like to improve on. Specifically she mentioned her aggressiveness. She believes that she needs to get in the face of the players challenging her and set a tone early and often in the match.
The Nittany Lions are 1-1 against top 10 teams this year. They beat Virginia on the road earlier this month before heading to Maryland and losing there. Doherty and her team have not beaten the Florida Gators since her arrival on campus three years ago, however she knows her team and goalie have what it takes to win.
Penn State takes on the Gators outside this Saturday. The game will start at noon and temperatures are not expected to go above 40 degrees, something Smith does not mind.
"I love playing in cold weather. I think I play better in cold weather because I'm focused less on being hot and sweaty," Smith said with a smile.
Smith Ready For Challenges
By Michael Renahan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
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