With one play, Shauni Kerkhoff changed the women’s soccer program.
In the waning moments of a conference road matchup against Cincinnati—a two-hour drive from the goalkeeper’s home in Westerville, Ohio—the Owls were in danger of relinquishing a 2-1 lead.
Kerkhoff made arguably the most important save of her career, denying Cincinnati’s Danielle Rotheram on a breakaway opportunity with 20 seconds remaining.
“It was like one of those things you see in the movies,” coach Seamus O’Connor said. “This is not real life. It was just an absolutely phenomenal save, and I think that result kind of made everybody step back and go, ‘Okay, these girls are legit,’ and it really changed our fortune with recruiting and it changed a lot about the program.”
The 5-foot-7-inch goalkeeper’s late-game heroics led Temple to its second conference win since joining the American Athletic Conference in 2013.
Kerkhoff backed up her conference Preseason Goalkeeper of the Year honors by contributing major minutes in the Owls’ three shutout victories in an undefeated start to the season.
Kerkhoff, now a senior, has been Temple’s mainstay in net since taking over the starting job midway through her freshman season, in which she played 11 games and made nine starts.
She was one of 15 freshman recruits brought in by then-coach Matt Gwilliam to alter the culture of Temple’s program, which posted a combined record of 11-24-2 from 2010 to 2011.
“They told us when we came in that they recruited our class to change the program, so, as freshmen, we had to be seniors,” Kerkhoff said. “I had to be a leader even though I was the newbie.”
O’Connor, a three-year starter at goalkeeper for Athlone Institute of Technology in Ireland, has been closely engaged with Kerkhoff’s development since taking over as Temple’s coach following the 2012 season.
“The position of goalkeeper is not a position that you’re going to get an ‘A’ in.,” O’Connor said. “So, it was just getting her to accept that we don’t want perfection. We want her to try to be perfect, but if she makes a mistake, it’s okay.”
O’Connor said Kerkhoff blossomed to her full potential last season, as the Owls tied a program-high with 11 wins and the goalkeeper grabbed second-team all-conference honors.
Kerkhoff said she’s not a typical goalkeeper, and that such a designation might not even exist.
“You have to have some little screw loose in your brain that makes you want to jump in front of balls and get hit,” Kerkhoff said. “Every goalkeeper is weird in their own way.”
One thing about Kerkhoff that hasn’t changed over the course of her career is her vocal leadership during games.
If she’s in the net, she’s talking.
“For me, I like that,” senior defender Kaylee Harner said. “But, if anything, she’s learned who she should and who she shouldn’t give too much.”
Tom Reifsnyder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tom_reifsnyder.