Standing Their Ground
Victoria Esson and the Red Raiders are set to face Texas A&M on Friday night in a Big 12 showdown.
October 6, 2011
by Britton Drown
Head soccer coach Tom Stone and the Red Raider soccer team weren't exactly sure what to expect when Victoria Esson landed in Lubbock on July 4. Little of what they did know was that the goalkeeper who came all the way from Christchurch, New Zealand brought along with her an impressive resume, which included a wealth of national team experience.
However still, Stone and his players still were left to wonder just how the transition to a new home, a new culture and a new style of soccer might affect their newest teammate.
Slightly over three months later, it almost seems silly to ever have had such concerns.
"I don't think any of us expected this." senior and team captain Casey McCall said.
McCall and the Red Raiders (8-3-2, 2-0-1 Big 12) had just completed a morning practice at the John Walker Soccer Complex where they were preparing to host what could be their toughest battle of the season. Tomorrow, Texas A&M (9-5 3-1 Big 12) is set to arrive for a Friday night conference showdown.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at the John Walker Soccer Complex, and the match has been declared a `Blackout'in coordination with the football game on Saturday--also against Texas A&M.
What McCall was referring to as she addressed the media on Thursday morning, was the seven shutouts and four Big 12 Player of the Week accolades that Esson has already racked up this season. With her fourth weekly award garnered on Tuesday, she became the first player in Big 12 soccer history to accumulate the honor four times in a single season.
Yes, that presumed transition period was short-lived for the easy-going international transfer. Esson almost immediately immersed herself into the Red Raider soccer program both on and off the field, and has made quite a bit of noise in the process.
"She is awesome," McCall said. "Everyone really gets along well with her. Our team has great chemistry, and she just fit right in."
But perhaps most importantly, she has fit in on the field. Her seven shutouts have helped the Red Raiders tie a school record with 10 total shutouts on the season as they move further into conference play.
The Texas Tech defense, anchored by a fast back line and the nearly unblemished play by Esson, has become the cornerstone to their fast start to Big 12 play. Texas Tech opened Big 12 play with a 1-0 shutout of Missouri at home, and recorded their second victory last weekend with a 2-0 shutout of Oklahoma in Norman.
"Every goalkeeper wants to get a shutout," Esson said. "I suppose getting shutouts is leading by example."
Entering Friday's showdown with Texas A&M, Esson has 42 saves on the season, and ranks 22nd in the nation in shutout percentage at .875.
Meanwhile, the Texas Tech defense ranks 2nd in the nation in shutout percentage (.769), 12th in goals against average (.444) and 14th in save percentage (.889).
"It's a team-wide commitment to defending." Stone said.
But it's hard to ignore the staggering impact Esson has made. For Stone, it stems from her unmatched work ethic.
Esson has a habit of beating everyone, including Stone, to the practice field by well over an hour each day. Stone says he finds her working diligently under the lights in the early hours of the morning. There, she works tirelessly on mistakes from practices before and prepares for her next match in front of the net.
"Her training habits are the best we have seen," Stone said.
All of it has transitioned into a defense that has an unwavering trust in their goalkeeper.
"I don't think I've ever felt so confident with a goalie back there." McCall said. "It's really nice to know she is there."
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