In 2013, the Tar Heels rode a streak of hot goalie play from Megan Ward all the way to the program’s first national title. She made six saves, including three in overtime, to preserve the win over Maryland in the final.
Ward looked poised to dominate for the next three years, but Caylee Waters joined the team in 2014. Given the opportunity, Waters shined and was named 2015 National Goalie of the Year by several outlets.
If this was football, and there were two quarterbacks, there would be media controversy and fans clamoring for one or the other. But, shielded from the limelight, Coach Jenny Levy doesn’t have trouble managing her two talented goalies. She just has to manage two great friends and teammates.
“Credit my players for just being awesome teammates and understanding that and continuing to show up everyday and work hard ...” Levy said. “No one cares about their stats and individual awards. We are ultimately working as a team to get to the next step.”
Both players obviously want to play, but they also understand their roles as co-goalies and that the team comes first — and the team and Levy have confidence no matter who is in the net.
“We just have a lot of confidence in Caylee and a lot of confidence in Meg,” Levy said. “I think the team enjoys playing with either and we are a team effort and we are going to live and die by that.”
Team effort means attackers feed off the momentum from a big save, no matter who is in the net, and translate that into goals on offense.
“I think when our defense plays well, we play harder,” Sammy Jo Tracy said. “So we really want to connect as a team fully and when that end of the field is really picking up their momentum, I think it is really easy for us to capitalize.”
On Sunday against Duke, North Carolina capitalized on the momentum of a goalie change. Ward started the game and struggled, prompting Coach Levy to switch to Waters with 9:40 left in the first half with the score tied 6-6. Waters came in, recorded five saves and allowed only four more goals, leading the Tar Heels to a 15-10 victory.
You would think it would be tough for Waters to come off the bench and into the goal in the middle of a close NCAA Tournament game, but she finds motivation to always stay prepared for whenever her name is called.
“It could be hard to stay mentally ready, but when you are on the sidelines, you want to win it just as much as the people on the field,” Waters said. “So, you are always ready, always mentally ready, because you just want to win.”
The want to win — that’s what comes first for Ward and Waters, not stats or playing time. Both goalies have shown they deserve to be out on the field in crucial moments and have sacrificed by sharing the net with a teammate.
But with the Tar Heels on a 14-game winning streak, it’s clear the team is better for it.