Starting goalie Winston a score for the Eagles

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Mckenzie Ford

EWU goalkeeper Kelsee Winston makes a jumping save in EWU’s 0-0 draw against South Dakota State on Sept. 16. Winston leads the BSC in save percentage, goals against average, shutouts and shutouts per game

By Jeremy Burnham, Managing Editor

In 2017, goalkeeper Kelsee Winston joined an EWU soccer team full of veteran players poised to chase a second straight Big Sky Conference championship. Now, as a sophomore, she is the starting goalkeeper and a leader of a young squad with only 10 upperclassman on the 34-player roster.

Winston, from Hanford High School, is shining in her first season as the starter. She is currently leading the Big Sky Conference in several goalkeeper statistical categories, including goals against average (0.76), save percentage (.836), shutouts (5) and shutouts per game (0.45). This has been key for an Eagle team averaging less than a goal a game offensively.

Despite her personal success, Winston gives a lot of credit to her defense.

“They’ve been great,” Winston said. “For how young we are, I think this is the best defense Eastern has had in a while. I think this year we’ve really clicked in the backline, it’s been a really good year so far.”

In Winston’s freshman year, EWU had just lost its previous goalkeeper, Mallory Taylor, to graduation. Winston joined a group of goalkeepers that included senior Emily Busselman, who was entering her second season as an Eagle after transferring to EWU from Spokane Falls Community College.

We thought last year [Winston] would come in and compete for the [starting] job,” EWU head coach Chad Bodnar said. “And to be honest it was kind of back and forth between her and Busselman last year. But she went down sick in a game she was supposed to start, and Buss came in and played really well and won the game, and we never took her back out.”

Winston did make three starts last season, and finished with a 1-2 record. She won the BSC defensive player of the week award after posting her first shutout in a 4-0 win over the University of Nevada. She said that last year served to help her prepare for this season.

“I never expected to play [last season], so getting in to play some was pretty cool,” Winston said. “It was good experience for this year. I mean, getting shot at by Chloe Williams in practice is always amazing. Everyone last year was so good, so it really helped.”

Jump to this year, and Winston entered the season competing for the starting spot with junior Ryann Rydeen and senior Hadley Bezon.

“It’s a battle everyday out here because I have Hadley and Ryann who are both really good goalkeepers,” Winston said.

So far, it’s a battle Winston has won. Bezon started the Eagles’ second match of the season, a 3-0 loss at Seattle University. Since then, Winston has been in the starting lineup except when she was out sick for a 3-2 win over Portland State on Sept. 23.

“Kelsee has come in and played well of us this year,” Bodnar said. “She has really taken hold of the No. 1 spot.”

Bodnar says the playing style of Winston is very similar to that of Busselman.

“They are both big, strong and athletic goalkeepers,” Bodnar said. “Kelsee has improved a lot this year with her footwork. We play a lot through our goalkeepers in the back. She had to improve that and she has. But her and Buss are very similar physically.”

Their similarities don’t end there. Both goalkeepers graduated from Hanford High School.

“Yeah that’s an accident,” Bodnar said with a laugh when asked about the two goalkeepers coming from the same school. “Just being from Tri-Cities, and knowing all those kids and working with those kids there, I knew Kelsee’s family from working with them for years, and I knew she was going to continue to improve. So, we had our eyes on her years ago.”

Despite Winston’s and the backline’s strong play, the Eagles have struggled this season. These struggles continued over the weekend with a 0-0 draw against the University of Montana on Friday, and a 3-1 loss to the University of Northern Colorado on Sunday. The draw against Montana was the sixth time this season that the Eagles have been shutout. It was also Winston’s fifth shutout of the year.

The Eagles are now 1-2-1 in the BSC and 5-5-3 overall. They will travel to take on the University of Idaho on Oct. 7. The Vandals are 2-1-1 in the BSC and 5-6-2 overall. Coincidentally, like the Eagles, the Vandals are also coming off a weekend that saw them tie Montana (1-1 on Sunday) and lose to Northern Colorado (3-0 on Friday).

EWU returns home to take on Weber State on Oct. 12.