WVU women's soccer team visits Virginia Tech in NCAAs
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- A soccer team can go a whole season without having to face penalty kick. West Virginia University's women's team didn't see one from 2008-11 and was only guilty of a foul or a handball in the box to necessitate a penalty kick four times from 2004-12.
This season has been a little different for the Mountaineers and goalkeeper Sara Keane. WVU has yielded six penalty kicks and allowed four scores.
"After this season," the senior said, "I'm not a huge fan of them."
All that practice paid off, though, and the seventh-ranked Mountaineers are still alive in the NCAA Tournament because they survived a penalty kick shootout last week against Rutgers in the opening round to advance to today's 6 p.m. match at No. 4 Virginia Tech.
WVU and Rutgers were scoreless through 120 minutes of regulation and two overtime periods, with Keane making seven saves, but the Mountaineers won the shootout 3-0. Keane saved the first two shots and cheered with her teammates after the third missed wide.
She's been stubborn in the postseason with four of the season's 10 shutouts coming in three Big 12 Tournament games and against Rutgers. Keane hasn't been working with a lot of room for error, either. The semifinal and championship game wins in the conference tournament were both 1-0 before the drama against Rutgers.
She's made 18 saves the past four games and watched a penalty kick from Baylor in the 1-0 semifinal win sail wide left. Her nine saves in the championship game win against Oklahoma State were a career high.
"Every goalie has a different mentality," said Keane, who has 27 career shutouts. "Mine is to just be there for my team and to try to make the easy saves and do my best to make the big-time saves when I have to."
She figures to be busy tonight. Virginia Tech (17-4-2) is one of the tournament's four No. 1 seeds and has a 5-4 record against ranked teams, including a win against No. 1 Virginia in the ACC Tournament. The Hokies scored four goals against the Cavaliers and have 49 this season. They've been shut out twice and have eight players who have scored multiple goals.
Virginia Tech, which is 10-2 at home, has only allowed 18 goals and Keane's counterpart, Dayle Copitts, has nine shutouts.
"They're very much a team that doesn't give up many goals and also scores a lot of goals, or at least puts something up on the board every match," WVU Coach Nikki Izzo-Brown said. "It's going to be tough to score on them. They have a very experienced goalkeeper who played on the international level (with Canada). We just have to make sure that we're very focused on opponent."
In Saturday's shootout, the Mountaineers had goals from Big 12 offensive player of the year Frances Silva, freshman Kadeisha Buchanan and junior Jess Crowder in their shootout.
"I think our three shooters did an awesome job and placed their shots perfectly," Keane said. "Luckily for us, we only had to go three deep. If we go to penalty kicks against Virginia Tech, they only know where three shooters go, which I think is a plus for us.
"I definitely think we have confidence going into that. We showed we could do it once and I think we can do it again if the opportunity presents itself."
Keeping secrets matters because goalies can learn about their opponents and their penalty kicks pretty easily on tape.
"More often than not, a shooter goes to the same side all the time," Keane said, "unless she's a really good shooter who's capable of switching on and off."
Still, coaches can put together scouting reports and tell their goalies what to expect. Keane said she knew where Rutgers' first shooter was going to aim, which made for an easy save.
"The second one was the one who switched on and off left and right," Keane said. "The scouting report said she mainly went to my lower left, but it just didn't seem like that's where she was going. I guessed right."
Scouting reports help, but sometimes a goalie has to read and react or just simply guess.
The Hokies haven't been in a shootout this season and two players are a combined 2-for-3 on penalty kicks. Only four players on the roster have taken a penalty kick in their career. A shootout starts as a best-of-five competition.
"I think with her experience and ability to recognize what a shooter is going to do based on body language, cues, hips, the plant foot, there's definitely an opportunity to get hints," Izzo-Brown said. "Obviously, the staff does a great job scouting, but I think Keane has very good instincts around the net."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.