Saving the best for last
By MIKE CONNOLLY
Associate Sports Editor
In the Sept. 4 game against North Carolina, LaKeysia Beene set a new career high with 15 saves — including several spectacular saves — only to watch a shot in the last minutes take an irregular bounce past her into the net. The goal tied the game at 2 and the Tar Heels won 3-2 on over time.
On Friday, Beene made four saves and a few spectacular saves only to just miss making a save on a penalty kick in the closing minutes against Stanford. The ball, however, ricocheted off both posts and skidded away from the net as the Irish maintained their 1-0 lead.
Such is the life of a goalkeeper.
At a position where luck plays nearly as great a factor as skill, Beene has excelled as the starting goalkeeper for the Irish. Beene is just as mentally strong as she is physically gifted. She is able to put both good saves and bad misses behind her to concentrate on the next play.
"Your key focus is not to let anyone in, but if you do, you have to reset and focus," she said. "Your new focus has to be to not let anymore in and help your team out that way."
At times, Beene has not gotten much help from her team.
"I feel bad for her because we've let her down rather more than she's let us down," head coach Randy Waldrum said. "I think she has been very solid for us this year and has been as consistent as she can be based on what we've done for her. The goals she's given up have been goals where we've have given her a chance to make the saves.
"I feel bad for her because I think statistically she can be so much better than she has been this year," he added about Beene's goals against average which has risen from .48 goals per game to 1.03 goals per game in 1999. "I don't think there is a doubt that she is one of the best goalkeepers in the country. I just don't think we've done our part this year."
At times the Irish defense has been solid and held opposing offenses far from the Irish net, allowing just one or two shots per game. With such little action, one might think that Beene might become bored hanging back all alone.
"I have a great time because I love watching my teammates play and seeing what they can do," Beene said about the long lulls in the action she sometimes experiences. "I don't think I could ever get bored."
At other times, the defense breaks down and Beene is left all alone with an opponent breaking in all alone. It is these moments when the line between skill and luck becomes blurred. It is also the times when Beene shows why she was named an All-American in 1997 and Big East goalkeeper of the year in 1997 and 1998.
This year against Texas A&M, Beene came out of the box and stole the ball off the foot of a Aggie streaking toward the goal to preserve a 1-0 shutout win.
The Irish defense has greater confidence with Beene behind it, Waldrum said.
"I think having her back there with that kind of experience and playing background makes us all feel so much more comfortable," Waldrum said.
Beene arrived at Notre Dame as a two-time Parade high school All-American and a veteran of several national teams. At most schools, Beene would have automatically become the starter. Except at Notre Dame she was stuck behind Jen Renola — a four-year starter who led Notre Dame to the national championship the previous year.
After being in the spotlight in high school, playing the role of backup was difficult but Beene said it helped her improve as a goalkeeper.
"It was pretty tough sitting there but at the same time I learned a lot from Renola. She was a great goalkeeper," Beene said. "She was so smart and so calm in the goal. She just exudes confidence and the team played with more confidence because she was always there when they needed her."
Beene used the lessons she learned from Renola to become a leader on the team. She is one of three captains on this year's team and plays a key role in organizing the defense.
"She is very mobile back there trying to organize the defense," Waldrum said. "When teams start to attack, she is very good about organizing and getting everyone matched up and in the areas where they need to be. By her mobile nature and the way she plays adds some leadership. Sometimes you can lead by example and that's what she does a lot."
Beene also made an impression on her teammates. Sophomore goalkeeper Liz Wagner said that training with Beene improved her play.
"Watching her has helped me with my techniques," Wagner said. "She is very encouraging to me in my play. Just training with her keeps the training intense and pushes me to great heights."
Beene's play has received national attention as well. She was nominated for the Herman and the Missouri Athletic Club player of the year awards. Beene, however, is more concerned with winning a national championship than individual honors.
"Honestly, I really don't care as long as we keep winning," she said. "I would love to have those honors but right now I am more focused on a national championship."
Beene is not a stranger to national championships.
Although the Irish have yet to win a national championship in her four years under the Dome, Beene won three national championships in Tang Soo Do karate. While she is no longer able to train and compete at the national level due to her busy soccer schedule, karate has helped Beene become a better goalie.
"From karate I have had to be more flexible and have quicker reflexes," Beene said. "On close range shots I've learned to just react and not think about it because of karate."
Despite all of her talents and experience, Beene, like any goalkeeper, will still give up the occasional goal.
Nevertheless, every Irish player will say they wouldn't want any other keeper.
All Sports Stories for Tuesday, November 23, 1999