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The Daily Tar Heel

Once-Timid Winget Seizes Starting Role

Her short-sleeved practice jersey provides little protection, but the shot is stopped -- just one of many from the Wednesday practice.

Winget looks fearless and at ease with her task, just like the starting goalkeeper on the North Carolina women's soccer team should. The thing is, the freshman just assumed the position eight games ago, when a nagging knee injury sidelined UNC's Jenni Branam.

"I wasn't expecting Branam to get hurt, but when she did, I was excited for the minutes I've gotten to play because of that," Winget said.

Tonight, Winget will get a chance to lengthen the Tar Heels' scoreless streak beyond 556 minutes, 20 seconds. So far, the Orinda, Calif., native has notched 36 saves in 10 appearances this season.

"Each day at practice I see something new and better about her play," said goalkeeping coach Chris Ducar. "She's starting to really commit to the training and the physical preparation, and it can only help her goalkeeping in the future."

Last year, Winget struggled with her fitness as well as with finding her comfort zone both on the team and at UNC.

"I was timid coming to North Carolina, the Number 1 team in the nation," she said. "I expected to get my ass kicked, and I did."

That was the plan. Ducar said the decision to redshirt Winget her freshman year was made so she could train with Branam. The training was set to continue this season.

"That's really important because with a senior and a freshman, it's like an apprenticeship," Ducar said. "That's why we wanted to redshirt Aly for a year so she could play with Jenni for two and learn all she could before she takes over the program."

Branam, who continues to do some ballwork in practice, said she noticed an improvement in Winget's performance well before this season.

"I think she's a lot more mature this year than last year," Branam said. "She's improved in all parts of her game. She showed it over the summer. She worked hard in her kicking and in her fitness."

But Winget's success is not only rooted in her athletic prowess but also in her religion. Around her neck for every game is a gold chain that carries a golden cross. She wears it as a constant reminder of her faith and her family.

She also crosses herself before every game. "I'm very religious," she said. "I went to Catholic school my entire life."

And Winget's been tending goal almost as long. Since she started playing at age five, she's had three or four concussions but no broken bones.

"I've never had a fear of getting hurt," Winget said. "I'll go as hard as I possibly can, and if I get hurt, oh well. That's part of the position, part of the game."

Winget said her bravery pales in comparison to Branam, who could come back to reclaim her starting position should her injuries heal.

But Winget won't let up.

"If she comes out and outplays me, then that's good for her," she said. "I'll congratulate her. The better goalkeeper will play."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.

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