Davis, Westermeyer impress as new starters

St. Olaf men’s and women’s soccer both feature fresh faces at the crucial position of goalkeeper this fall. Brynne Davis ’21 and Ben Westermeyer ’19 are enthusiastically embracing their new leadership roles and perpetually improving to help remedy pre- season voids in their respective rosters left by injuries and graduated starters.

“I started playing soccer when I was four, and I think it was just the classic ‘parents put their kids in a sport’ situation,” Davis said. “I just loved it and kept playing. When we started having goalkeepers – I think it started when I was eight or nine – everyone kinda tries it out because they’re all like, ‘oh goalkeeper, it’s a new position, I’ll try it,’ and then they’re like ‘oh, I hate this.’ But for some reason I just fell in love with it, so ever since then I’ve played goalkeeper.”

“I’ve been playing soccer since I was probably six years old,” Westermeyer said. “I think pretty much that whole time I was always interested in playing goalie. I’d play goalie at recess, and when we started playing in in-house leagues, I would still be one of the people to volunteer to play. When I was eleven or twelve years old I started playing travelling soccer and I’d always play goalie, and I always stuck with it and enjoyed it. I think it’s what I’m best at, too. I was just sort of drawn to it, the thrill of making a big play, a big stop. It’s a very exhilirating position – the highs are very high and the lows are very low.”

In terms of precision, decision-making and confidence, both Davis and Westermeyer work tirelessly to constantly improve, gradually maturing at the position with the quintessential experience that comes from each opposing shot on goal. However, both already bring unique strengths to an exposed, oftentimes intimidating position; Davis features impressive agility and laser focus, and while Westermeyer touts an imposing frame that significantly limits windows of opportunity for more trigger-happy opponents.

“I definitely would like to improve on high balls and being more aggressive off my line on those,” Davis said. “I’m not the tallest person on the field, so it can be a challenge. But I do think my footwork is pretty good, agility wise. It’s a large mental position too, so being able to set aside 90 minutes for a game and focus and be on the whole time, even when the ball’s not in your end, that’s a big part of it.”

“A lot of it is still making sure your defense is in a good shape even if they do clear the ball so you can get ready for a counterattack. I usually move my feet a lot and walk around a few steps just so I’m not flat-footed and always ready.”

“I feel that the combination of my size and athleticism allow me to get to balls that most people can’t get to, both diving and grabbing balls out of the air,” Westermeyer said. “I think I have an advantage there. Something to work on, which I already have been working on this year, is distribution, improving on my power and my accuracy. As you move up to higher levels, goalkeepers are expected to be part of the offense by pinpointing players out on the field and just hitting them for a counterattack. Just being able to very efficiently get the ball to a new place when I have it at my feet or in my hands.”

After anticipated starter Julie Johnson ’19 was sidelined from play after sustaining too many head injuries, Davis was thrust into the limelight, suddenly replacing her expected mentor figure rather than gradually learning from her as a rookie backup. Although the situation opened an auspicious door for Davis to rapidly improve with hands-on competitive experience in a ferocious conference, the abrupt turn of events left her and the team with a deep sense of melancholy.

“I got the email and I was really sad,” Davis said. “I had met her [Johnson] on all the visits I went on, and I loved her so much. I was just so excited, and I was like, ‘OK, this is good, there’s someone that I can learn from and I won’t just get thrown in.’ It was an exciting opportunity to step up and all, but I was pretty bummed about it, too.”

That’s not to say Davis hasn’t adapted accordingly to this sudden role reversal. Though it took an adjustment period, she has only allowed one goal during her last two starts against Hamline and St. Benedict, formidable defensive performances which elevated St. Olaf’s conference record to an impressive 4-1.

While Westermeyer experienced a more methodical, less surprising transition into the starting role, inheriting the job from a graduate rather than an injured veteran, electing to join St. Olaf soccer as a junior came with its own set of excruciating decisions. Trapped in a dilemma between his two passions, music and sport, committing to soccer meant sacrificing his chair in the St. Olaf Band, an ensemble he grew to love throughout his first two years on campus. After all, though St. Olaf is a liberal arts college, there are only 24 hours in a day, and there simply isn’t enough time to feasibly participate in both.

“When I came into St. Olaf, it was a decision that I had to make [soccer vs. music],” Westermeyer said. “That was difficult. I went with band [initially], and I don’t regret it at all. It might seem like I regret it cause I switched, but I had an amazing two years, getting to go to New York and having two really enjoyable tours, two really enjoyable concert seasons with the band. It was really a fantastic experience, it’s just that with the starting goalkeeper from last year graduating, I realized that my interest in soccer hadn’t faded. It was still there, and here was this opportunity for me to come onto the team and perhaps make an impact getting to play the sport that I love.”

“10 years from now, I’m never going to regret it if I look back and say, ‘yeah, I had two amazing years playing in the St. Olaf Band and then two amazing years playing for St. Olaf varsity soccer.’ I feel that this will be a really special experience looking back on these four years, knowing that I got to do both.”

For Westermeyer, overcoming initial nerves and reacquiring both confidence and instinct is a gradual process with the occasional growing pain, exponentially accelerated by invaluable experience stopping opponent shots on goal. Davis, on the other hand, is learning what it means to compete in a breakneck, cutthroat MIAC that prides itself on physicality, continually adapting and improving on the fly while embracing soccer beyond the field.

“It [college soccer] is definitely a lot faster paced, and the MIAC is a really aggressive conference,” Davis said. “It’s very physical. I’m a very competitive person, so I love it. Compared to my high school soccer team … the [difference in the] level of play between that and collegiate now is pretty large. Everyone’s bigger and stronger, and there’s a lot more that goes into it than just, ‘oh, I play soccer and go to practice and play on the weekends.’ You watch film and analyze everything about it. It’s a large part of your life.”

“I played for a men’s league team this summer in the MASL [Minnesota Amateur Soccer League],” Westermeyer said. “That was a great primer for me when I was getting ready for the transition, because I was playing at a high level. Even so, during the first game [with St. Olaf] against Wheaton, I was nervous. One of the weird things about playing goalie is that you don’t want the other team to have shots on you for the team’s sake, but when there are shots it allows you to build up confidence because you’re getting touches on the ball rather than just standing around. In that first Wheaton game I had a lot of touches on the ball, and it gave me the confidence that I belonged and that I was ready to take on this challenge.”

Combining tenacious work ethic with the uncanny ability to learn and adapt to their competition, Davis and Westermeyer rep- resent pivotal roles in both the near and distant future of St. Olaf soccer. If their rapid improvement thus far in 2017 is indicative of their potential heading forward, then that future appears to be in reliable hands.