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ND Women’s Soccer: Little stays cool in goal

Brian Hartnett | Wednesday, October 16, 2013

CLARIFICATION: The Observer’s October 16th story about women’s soccer goalie Kaela Little needs the following clarifications to reflect the standards of accuracy for which a news publication should strive: Sophomore goalkeeper Elyse Hight was injured during a preseason exhibition and did not compete with Little for the starting job. A post-publication change to our story said “Hight was injured to begin the season.” Hight is still injured and is scheduled for surgery later this month. Hight started 16 of 24 games as a freshman.

 

As Notre Dame’s goalkeeper for its first season in the ACC, freshman Kaela Little has played in front of some of the most avid student sections in college soccer.

But she said the big and, occasionally, hostile crowds don’t bother her. Instead, they help her to relax.

“Sometimes, I’ll hear something the [people in the student sections] say, and it’s actually really funny, and I’m laughing at what they’re saying behind me about me,” Little said. “Sometimes, it helps me just laugh a little in a tense moment in a game.”

Little’s calmness under pressure, combined with her leadership skills, has helped the Tulsa, Okla., native become a key contributor in her first season with the No. 13 Irish.

“I think what really helped her right from the beginning with the team was her confidence and the demeanor she brings to the table,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said of Little. “Right from Day 1, even as a freshman, she’s organizing the back line; she’s getting onto players when they’re in the wrong spot. She’s really a take-charge personality, and we’ve lacked that for a couple of years with our goalkeepers.”

Little first took charge in Notre Dame’s training camp when she emerged from a competition to get the starting nod. Sophomore Elyse Hight, who started 16 of 24 games as a freshman, was injured in a preseason exhibition, has been out the whole season and will have surgery later this month.

“It was really exciting to [be named the starter] just because of the talent level of the other three keepers,” she said. “I can’t take a day off because I know they’re right behind me working hard, and they push me to keep pushing myself.”

Little solidified her commitment to the starting job with an impressive run in goal at the beginning of the season. The Howard Hall resident allowed only four goals in the team’s first 10 games and recorded four consecutive shutouts, two against ranked opponents.

Little attributed much of her strong start to the Irish defense, which has held opponents to an average of 10.3 shots per game.

“Even though I get credit for [wins], a huge part of it is my backline and how they play, day in and day out,” Little said. “They’ve been there for me through all my bad passes and screw-ups in the goal.”

Despite her reliance on the defense’s play, Little has also made continuous strides in goal, Waldrum said.

“I think we’ve seen [improvement] in her distribution and in her kicking game,” he said. “She was one of the reasons we were able to win at [then-No. 1] North Carolina – she made multiple good saves in that game. She’s made some big saves in some big moments.”

As Notre Dame closes out its conference schedule, Little will be called upon to make some even more important saves. However, her current challenge is a bit more psychological, as it involves finding ways to help the Irish snap their three-game losing streak. Little has allowed six goals over the losing streak, including a controversial game-winning goal to No. 1 Virginia on Thursday.

“As a keeper, it’s extremely important to not let your mistakes eat at you because you let a goal in one minute, and the next minute, you’ll have to come up and make a big save,” she said. “If you’re still thinking about the mistakes you just made, you’re not going to be fully focused on the thing that you have to do next, and that can cost your team. As a keeper, you’ve got to just take things in and let them go.”

Just like the comments and jeers of opposing fans.

Contact Brian Hartnett at bhartnet@nd.edu