One of the best parts about Erin Leseberg’s job as goalkeeper for the Kamiakin girls soccer team is she often has the best seat in the house.
And since the Braves don’t allow too many teams past a top-notch defensive third — Kamiakin has allowed just six goals in 12 games — Leseberg gets a good look at an offense at the top of its game.
“Some games, you don’t even touch the ball. You’re just standing back there waiting for something to happen,” Leseberg said. ”It’s so awesome watching (the offense). They all work together, like Rilee (Castilla) and Ellie (Heiden) up there with the wings and defensive midfielders. Alicia (Nguyen) is always sending beautiful lob balls up to Ellie.”
They appreciate her, too. Leseburg, a sophomore who spent last year on junior varsity splitting time between goalkeeper and wing, leads all Mid-Columbia Conference goalkeepers with just 0.60 goals per game in 802 minutes.
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The strangest part about Leseberg’s success in goal is that she was hoping to earn her stripes on varsity by playing in the field, where she has spent much of her playing career through club and recreational leagues. But after the graduation of all-MCC keeper Sydnee Grant and an injury to junior Kelci Young, the Braves needed someone to step up into the role of starter.
“I called her in the summer, and she said she was done playing goalkeeper. I asked if she would consider playing keeper until Kelci gets rolling for us. She said, ‘I’ll think about it,’ ” Kamiakin coach Chris Erikson said. “She called me back four days later and said, ‘I think I’ll try it.’ ”
One of Erikson’s dilemmas is what to do when Young returns. With two talented goalies, she can only play one at a time. One possible solution could be a best-case scenario for Leseberg.
“I told her she’d get an opportunity to try out on the field. She’s actually very fast, and that’s what she wanted to do,” Erikson said.
Leseberg would get a chance to join the party up front, and Young could get up to speed in goal just in time for the 3A sub-regional playoffs beginning Tuesday, Nov. 5.
Until Young gets her chance, she’ll continue supporting Leseberg as best she can. She’s been devoting her time to strengthening her torn ACL and working with Kamiakin goalie coach Theresa Hagler to getting Leseberg and JV keeper Rachel McClure up to speed.
“I felt like my responsibility was to help them get better,” said Young, who practiced with the team Monday and could see a return soon. “I’m impressed with how (Erin) is dealing with pressure. She keeps herself calm most of the time and made a lot of progress with her technique.”
Hagler, who played keeper at Richland from 1989-92 and at Whitworth from 1992-96, said Leseberg’s athletic ability sets her apart from most other goalies.
“She’s naturally gifted. She moves like an athlete and trains like an athlete. She’s got a natural ability to jump and get off the ground quickly,” Hagler said.
Other keepers might tower over the diminutive Leseberg, but her vertical leap gives her another advantage when going for balls in the air.
“Theresa always calls me the Easter bunny, because whenever we do jumping exercises, I’m always jumping really high,” said Leseberg, who comes from an athletic family. “Girls who are bigger than me are kind of intimidating. Before this, I didn’t have any goalie training at all, but I’ve gotten a lot better since my freshman year.”
She quickly gained the approval of an experienced defensive front consisting of Sarah Burns, Heather Donais, Rachel Ensign and Lauren McKinney.
“The whole defensive unit took her under our wing. It’s so important to have your team’s backing,” said McKinney, a Braves co-captain along with Heiden and Brianna Turley. “I don’t think anybody had any doubt in her. That’s her spot. She’s going to own it.”
McKinney said Leseberg’s experience in the field also helps her in goal.
“She can get to balls everywhere,” she said. “We try to play it to her on the ground a lot, because she’s able to look and find those passes, which is a good option.”
Erikson’s best option, once Young returns, might be finding a way to keep Leseberg on the field.