Keeper making most of opportunities

first_imgStarting in goal for the UW women’s soccer team her freshman year, Stefani Szczechowski had a 1.21 goals-against average and made 53 saves, leading her to a respectable record of 9-6-2.Two years later, the junior has been relegated to backup duties. But that hasn’t stopped her from practicing 100 percent every day and keeping spirits high on the sidelines during games.For the past three seasons, Szczechowski has been one of most spirited players on the team. Whether it’s leading the cheers from the sidelines or stopping opposing shots, Szczechowski carries with her a gritty persona and a lot of determination that surrounds her team-first philosophy.The Plymouth, Mich., native, Szczechowski was first-team all-state three times at Ladywood High School. When it came time to focus on her college playing career, she felt Wisconsin was the right fit for her.”Both my parents went to Michigan,” Szczechowski said. “I was looking to go there to play soccer, but I also wanted to go to a very good school academically and Wisconsin combined both of those. I was also looking at Dartmouth and Northwestern but Wisconsin was such a great place and a beautiful campus. It is such a great fit here.”In her freshman season at Wisconsin, Szczechowski played in 18 games, starting 16, and recorded a 1.21 GAA and 53 saves. For Szczechowski, her freshman season was personally satisfying, especially since she wasn’t expecting to be on the field much at all.”To my surprise, I ended up starting most of the games [my freshman year],” Szczechowski said. “Before the school year started, the starting goalie had gotten into a scooter accident. So when I came in, I thought I was going to take it easy and have time to learn and grow.”I think freshman year, I really didn’t reach my full potential because I was scared and timid but still played at a decent level.”The standout moment during the 2003 season for Szczechowski and the entire women’s soccer team is when they defeated top-seeded Penn State in the Big Ten tournament in Madison. Szczechowski stopped a career-high nine shots against Penn State and recorded her fourth shutout of the year. However, the biggest moment for her was stopping one of Penn State’s free kicks to allow Wisconsin to escape with the victory.”I think that might be the pinnacle of my soccer career,” Szczechowski said. “I think that was my all-time number of saves in a game and we were packing it in to try and be more defensive. Our goal was hopefully to tie and win in a shootout, which we did.”Szczechowski came up with another big save in the shootout.”You have to sort of read the shooter or guess where they are going. I think I saw her eyes look at the right side and I just went with it. I got a piece of it and kept it out of the net. It was just an awesome feeling for my whole team to run out on the field and pile on me.”During her sophomore season, however, new recruit Lynn Murray provided a new challenge for Szczechowski, as she now had to compete for her job. In the end, Murray won the job and has been Wisconsin’s No. 1 goalie since.While many players may have become bitter and detached from the team, Szczechowski took her new role in stride, making sure to make herself a better player and keep the team’s spirits high.”I knew it was going to be a challenge and that we would both be fighting for the same spot,” Szczechowski said. “I think right away she won out because in the college game, you see a lot more crosses and you need to have a bigger presence in goalie and I think that’s one area she definitely excels in more than me.””My personality type is a team-oriented player. Some people would have a real difficult time and be bitter, while they sit on the bench and frown all the time. I love leading the team in cheers and keeping there spirits high.”For sophomore goalie Lynn Murray, the help and friendship of Szczechowski has really helped her develop as a goalie and has created a special off-the-field friendship.”We both get really competitive and we’re trying to beat each other all the time,” Murray said. “But at the same time, we’re trying to help the other person get to their bests. It’s a really good environment and I am glad I have someone like Szczechowski to push me. We’re each other’s No. 1 competitor and No. 1 cheerleader.” The two netminders are friends off the field as well.”We get along really well and we’ll go places outside of soccer together,” Murray said. “You’re competitive on the field and friends off, and we’re both really supportive of each other.”According to assistant coach Nick Carlin-Voigt, the luxury of having Szczechowski and Murray is an extreme benefit because of the competition between them. By having Murray start in goal and having Szczechowski on the bench, they know that if anything happens, the Badgers have a solid, strong goalie on their bench.”Szczechowski is a joy to work with everyday in training because you know exactly what you are going to get out of her and that’s 100 percent effort,” Carlin-Voigt said. “She’s all about the team and she’s not a selfish player. She always understands her role, no matter what that is, yet, she always wants to be pushed.”last_img

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