Former Arizona women’s soccer goalkeeper Gabby Kaufman played in net for 1,937 minutes for the Wildcats last season. In other words, she played every minute but two.
Kaufman graduated after last season, and the team didn’t have another keeper with as much collegiate experience. Arizona head coach Tony Amato decided to go with two freshman keepers in 2015: Lainey Burdett and Rachel Estopare.
Neither Burdett nor Estopare are your typical freshmen, though.
Burdett graduated high school a semester early and was able to join the team in January, while Estopare redshirted in 2014 and already has a year of training under her belt.
The goalkeeping duo was naturally more seasoned than most freshmen and it was evident early this year. The Wildcats started the season with a program-best 5-0 record as the freshman combo allowed just one goal in that span.
While both received ample time in net, Burdett played 297 minutes, while Estopare played 153. Amato liked what he saw from both, but Burdett was just a step ahead.
“[Lainey] and Rachel, we have a lot of confidence in,” Amato said after the team’s win against Santa Clara in August. “The only difference right now is that Lainey is able to manage the game and make the big save, and Rachel, right now, is managing and making the saves she needs to make. Lainey just edged her in big saves in training.”
Part of managing the game for a goalie is helping the defenders in front of her, which is something Burdett excels at.
“Being the goalie, … you can really see the whole field and everything ahead of you,” senior defender Sheaffer Skadsen said of Burdett. “And it’s been really nice having someone behind me that can see what I can’t see, and so she can relay things to me and I can relay them out. And it’s been really helpful.”
Burdett is ahead of the game and it was not a surprise to Arizona’s coaching staff.
“She’s good, and we knew she would be good,” Amato said. “She’s a true freshman, and she came here last January. She graduated high school early and we saw that she could be a top goalkeeper in this league.”
He’s not wrong.
Burdett has quickly become one of the best keepers in the Pac-12 Conference, boasting the fifth-best goals against average (.88) in the conference this season. The Wildcats are also 8-2-1 when she starts.
The true freshman is the team’s best goalie, but don’t overlook Estopare.
The redshirt freshman has played roughly half the minutes Burdett has and hasn’t been as effective overall, posting a 1.33 goals against average. Estopare still represents another high-quality option that Amato can go with in net.
Arizona found just how valuable that is when Estopare shut out both Washington and California—two ranked teams—and made 14 saves while Burdett was nursing an injury.
Having two goalies of Estopare’s and Burdett’s caliber has created competition between the two and has pushed them to become better players.
“During practice throughout the week, we just always challenge each other and it’s very competitive and it’s a fun environment to be around,” Burdett said. “It’s not always bad because you’re always ready and have to be prepared.”
Burdett and Estopare recognize their special relationships and thrive off it in game-time situations.
“We’ve kind of built in this thing where both her and I are always ready [to play],” Estopare said. “[Burdett] and I support each other a lot, so it’s really easy to come into the game and be ready to go.”
The outstanding goalkeeping the duo has provided this season has led to seven shutouts and is a major reason why the program is on the verge of having its first winning conference record since 2004.
“This season has been awesome,” Burdett said. “Coming out with five [conference] wins already and having three games coming up … and hopefully making it to the tournament would top things off.”
The scary part for other Pac-12 schools is that both still have three more years of eligibility. It won’t be easy to score against Arizona in the foreseeable future.
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter.