Fairfield Now - Winter 2008
Last Line of Defense
It's the loneliest position in sports, but Fairfield's soccer goalies can handle the pressure
By John Torsiello
There are striking differences between Kelly Boudreau and Justin Burse. Boudreau is an 18-year-old, 5-foot-8-inch, first-year student. Burse is 22, 6-foot-4-inches and a seasoned post-graduate student who recently earned a four-year degree from Fordham University.
But there are also important similarities between them. Boudreau and Burse both play in what might be the loneliest position in all team sports: They are goaltenders for the respective Fairfield University soccer teams, the last line of defense. Often the difference between a win and a loss depends on them, their reflexes, their ability to stay focused, and their ability to keep their wits, when all about them may be losing theirs.
They also share a burning passion for preventing opposing teams from getting a soccer ball past them.
"Goaltender is a most important position," said women's soccer Head Coach Jim O'Brien, a former goalie himself. O'Brien has built Fairfield's women's program to the point where it beat Yale and tied the University of Connecticut, both vaunted programs, in the fall of 2008.
"I know Kelly will keep us in the game," he said. "I can see it by the way she reacts after allowing a goal. She puts it behind her and refocuses. Her attitude is that they aren't going to get another one on me. She's not a real vocal player, but one who leads by example."
Kelly Boudreau in action against Seton Hall.
Men's Head Coach Carl Rees spoke similarly of Burse.
"As a top goalie, you have to like the pressure of a 1-1 or 0-0 game and be ready to make a big save that will keep you tied or ahead. Justin has that intensity and accepts the pressure. He's smart and gets along so well with the other goalies on the team that I asked him if he would come back next year as a goaltender coach."
Boudreau came to Fairfield as a highly touted recruit who led her Farmington, Conn., high school team to a heady 64-5 four-year record. She served as team captain her senior year and earned All-Northwest Conference and All-New Britain Herald honors after the season. Her close relationship with Coach O'Brien, who mentored her on a junior travel team, was instrumental in her decision to come to Fairfield.
"The key really was Jim," Boudreau explained. "I played for him on junior teams for three years and I liked his coaching style. I committed to Fairfield early because I knew this is where I wanted to be."
Boudreau assumed the starting goaltender position right away. Indeed, she recorded three shutouts in her first eight games at Fairfield, and her goals-against average was an impressive 0.81.
"I had always played with girls who were older than me, so I'm not afraid to give directions to my defenders, even though they may be upperclassmen and have been around a while," she said.
Two of the players directly in front of Boudreau are Captains Robyn Decker '09 and Caroline Downey '09, who have helped make Boudreau's transition to Division I college soccer smooth and a bit less traumatic through their solid play and nurturing attitudes.
"I believe one of my strengths is that I see the whole field and have athletic ability," mused Boudreau. "That is important for a goalie. It's not so much being in control that I like, but having a say in the direction the game is moving, especially on defense.
"And I'm not afraid of contact," she added, smiling.
"Even when there isn't much going on in front of you, you have to remain sharp," Boudreau continued. "Sometimes I may not make many saves, but I come home mentally exhausted after a game because I had to remain focused the entire way."
When she isn't slapping away shots, Boudreau enjoys hanging out with her teammates, "eating, and listening to music." A marketing major, she finds Fairfield the perfect place for her.
"The size of the school is ideal and it's a beautiful campus. I have friends who are in classes that have 650 kids in them. That's not the way it is here. You have a feeling of intimacy that I like."
While Boudreau is still getting her feet wet in big-time college sports, Burse is a young man with a stellar collegiate resumé and lofty goals. He would like to follow his brother, Raymond, into professional soccer. The older Burse is also a goaltender. He started three years for The Ohio State University and was drafted by F.C. Dallas of Major League Soccer in 2006.
Burse was a four-year member of the Kentucky Olympic Development Team and then went on to standout freshman and sophomore seasons at Fordham, where he collected 10 All-Atlantic honorable mentions and was selected to the NSCAA/adidas New York All-Region second team as a sophomore.
Justin Burse making saves against Yale.
Then he caught the injury bug.
Burse missed the entire 2006 season after sustaining a broken leg 75 minutes into the season opener, and played in only two games his senior year at Fordham. With one year of college eligibility remaining because of his redshirt status during 2006, Burse was referred to Coach Rees by Fordham's head coach. "I met with Justin and was impressed with his demeanor and ambition," said Rees. "I told him that coming to Fairfield for a year would be a good platform for him to play professionally and for his studies. He's physical and athletic and has intangibles that help our team."
Burse is glad he came to Fairfield, where he is pursuing an MBA in general management after completing his studies at Fordham with a degree in business administration with a concentration in management.
"Fordham was also small and intimate, but I like the campus here and the classroom sizes are perfect," he said. "There's a great camaraderie on the team and we all put in the effort to improve."
Fairfield's men's team has risen steadily in the last four years, with the Stags ranked as high as 17th in the National Division I polls last year. They have posted a .710 winning percentage in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play during Rees' 11 years on the job. Burse believes he can help the Stags to do great things in 2008. In his first five games, he posted a stellar 1.59 goals-against average.
"I like the responsibility of being the last line of defense for our team," he said. "I'm like a coach on the field. One of my strengths is being able to understand the game from a field player's viewpoint because my brother and I would take turns playing goalie and playing the field. I think being 6'4" works to my advantage because I can see the field and block the high shots."
Despite being a newcomer and only with the team for this season, Burse fit quickly into his new surroundings.
"I think the other guys gave me respect for what I had done at Fordham. We run as a team, lift as a team, and practice hard as a team. The other goalies and I always talk, work with one another, and are friends."
He and his brother also chat often, with Raymond offering advice and guidance to his younger sibling.
"He says that I can play professionally if I continue to work hard," Burse said.
Which is exactly what he plans on doing, not only for himself but for the Stags' soccer program as well.