Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Alyssa Pont Proves a Ready Successor in Goal for Women's Soccer

Not bad, for a rookie. Not bad at all.

Alyssa Pont, the starting goalkeeper for the Princeton women’s soccer team, is not a freshman. But in terms of college soccer experience, she might as well be. As a freshman last year, she played behind Maren Dale ’08, a two-year starter, and saw less than 10 minutes of action in one game.

In spite of that, Pont has played a major role in Princeton’s current five-game unbeaten streak, extended by Tuesday night’s win over Fairfield, making nine straight saves in 310 minutes of shutout soccer. On the season, the team has allowed just three goals.

“The only thing going through my mind is keeping it out of the goal,” Pont said. “Just don't let it in. If I can, I try to settle it down a little bit and buy us any time I can.”

Nine saves in three-plus games isn’t a tremendous amount, perfect as Pont was over the stretch. Credit for keeping Pont’s save opportunities low goes to a defense in front of her centered by senior Taylor Numann, a two-time All-Ivy honoree.

“Taylor has definitely been a really great asset to us back there,” Pont said. “She's just been really strong, very good at organizing, really leading us back there. It's great to have her.”

The shutout stretch has also been the result of an overall attitude among the Princeton defense.

“I think we just work really hard,” Pont said. “We have this mentality that every ball that comes in is ours. We really work as a unit very well. Even if one player slips up, the other one's always there covering.”

Much of Pont’s success comes from the talent she honed at Bishop O’Connell High in Northern Virginia, where she had 58 shutouts in 91 starts, allowing a goal on average once every three games.

Even though Pont didn’t get on the field much last season, she was able to learn plenty from Dale over the course of the year.

“I really enjoyed working with Maren last year,” Pont said. “She really taught me a lot about organizing, being strong in the back. She was such a good leader. I really try to emulate her in a lot of ways. (She left) huge shoes to fill. As a captain, she was just really strong for the team.”

Pont is one of three goalkeepers on the roster, all in their first two years at Princeton. Though she was the only one of the three to see game action, the starting job wasn’t hers by default.

“I try to just work hard and there's obviously two other keepers who are relatively close to me in age, so it wasn't an open spot,” Pont said. “They pushed me and we push each other and I just try as hard as I can. I really try to take a leadership role even though I'm just a sophomore.”

In Fairfield, the Tigers defeated a team that was undefeated in nine straight, ranked No. 2 in the northeast region by the NSCAA and was receiving votes in the organization’s national poll. That followed the Ivy-opening win over Yale in which the Tigers scored early and held off a pillory of Yale attempts in the second half.

“It was our first Ivy League game, so it set us out on a really good path,” Pont said. “We got an early goal and we kept it. We were just so solid. I think it really carried over into (the Fairfield) game as well.”

Pont made key saves in both games to preserve the shutout victories using her six-foot frame quite well in the 192 square feet she is charged with protecting.

“They put a lot of pressure on it,” Pont said of Fairfield. “I'm just glad I'm nice and tall and I've got a good wingspan to get up there.”

Pont’s next time on the field will be part of a special occasion for the program. Saturday will mark the official dedication of the new Myslik Field at Roberts Stadium as well as the first Ivy League match at the facility.

“With this home field, it's a really great motivator,” Pont said. “I am excited to play an Ivy league game at home, definitely. I cannot wait for that atmosphere. I think it's going to be a huge game and I think we'll have a little bit of an edge. If you look around, it's a beautiful stadium.”

So far, so good for the Tigers at Roberts Stadium. All three matches played there have been Princeton wins, though all three have been dramatic one-goal games decided in the waning minutes.

“We think, this is our field, we want to keep it clean and we have,” Pont said. “It's just an extra motivation, an extra bit to go to goal or an extra bit to save it from going in. It's just something we guard.”

But Princeton will need wins away from campus, like the one at Yale, to get back to the NCAA tournament for the ninth time in program history and win the team’s sixth Ivy League title.

“Even on the road, we've been really strong,” Pont said. “I think we've got a really good momentum going. I hope we can continue it. I think we will.”

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