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ND Men’s Soccer: ND’s final line of defense relishes role

Molly Sammon | Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The eight-foot by 24-foot frame at the end of the field must be protected at all times, and that is senior goalkeeper Will Walsh’s job.

His four saves against No. 1 Connecticut helped the Irish break the conference-leading Huskies’ 11-game win streak, and earned Walsh his fourth shutout of the year.

“When the other team is about to shoot, I don’t think to myself that I’m not going to get it,” Walsh said. “It’s weird if they have the ball at the top of the box. I’m like, ‘Shoot the ball, because I’m going to save it.’ I’m literally telling them to come on and try and score. I’m just waiting for them to shoot.”

The 21-year-old Delbarton graduate has covered the goal in every minute of No. 12 Notre Dame’s 11 games of the 2011 season, resulting in 1,120 minutes of total play and only eight goals allowed.

Before games, Walsh said coffee and sometimes music get him ready for another game in goal.

“Especially being a goalie, you have to be really calm. You can’t be jittery. You have to have control over your emotions, and you have to be really stable,” Walsh said. “It’s an alertness, not a jitteriness, but a calm alertness. It’s like you’re in the zone, the perfect balance of ecstasy and control. You have to be acute and alert and ready to go, but you can’t be overly aggressive.”

As soon as the first period starts, his anxiety goes away.

“Pressure comes before the game,” Walsh said. “As soon as the game starts, you kind of lose sight of that. There are a lot of jitters before the game, but once it starts, you just play. You’ll forget you’re on television, you’ll forget they’re the No. 1 team in the country and you just play.

Saves in the early minutes mean a lot to Walsh’s entire game, he said.

“It really builds your confidence and you get going early in the game,” Walsh said. “It gets your momentum going, your blood flowing. It gets you going pretty good. I’m never telling them not to shoot.”

Communication with the defenders is another way Walsh maintains confidence in the goalie position, he said.

“Our back line and me, we really pride ourselves on getting shutouts,” Walsh said. “We’re a pretty solid unit back there, and we’re all really good friends. We have all played with each other before and we all know each other’s tendencies. I love these guys. They cover me and I cover them. It’s a mutual relationship.”

Walsh said his defenders have been an integral part of the four shutouts this season.

“When you get a shutout, it’s always huge. You take a lot of pride on not letting any goals,” Walsh said. “Sure, I get credit for the shutout, but usually it’s not just my doing. Most of the credit goes to the defenders for locking down their offense.”

Six of this year’s 11 games have gone into extra minutes. As overtimes are sudden death periods, staying focused in goal is especially important, he said.

“Overtimes aren’t fun,” Walsh said. “You certainly know that you let in one and it’s over. We need to start winning in overtime because we’re going to see overtime matches in the [NCAA] tournament. You can’t put any more emphasis on that than on the regular 90 minutes or you’ll start to lose that balance. If you play like you did in those 90 minutes, everything will be just fine.”

Though Walsh played other positions in high school a few times, he started to focus on the goalie position as his favorite early on.

“My cousins and I used to go to this soccer camp every year, and we used to watch highlights after lunch and they showed goalie highlights and it looked like a pretty cool thing to do,” Walsh said. “My mom got me a cheap pair of gloves the next day.”

Walsh stepped onto the competitive field for the Irish for the first time at the beginning of the 2010 season to takeover for seven games as then-senior goalkeeper Phil Tuttle recovered from an injury.

“I knew coming in that I wouldn’t play for a couple of years, which I was fine with,” Walsh said. “I was fine learning the ropes.”

Walsh is eligible for a fifth-year on the team, and said he hopes to take that opportunity if it comes around.

“If I’m offered it, I’ll probably take it,” Walsh said. “The more experience I can get before playing at the next level the better, and the more time to be seen by different MLS scouts. Getting to the MLS combine is a pretty big deal.”

Walsh and the rest of the Irish squad will play next against Marquette at 8 p.m. Wednesday in Milwaukee.