Ian Stone has got some thinking to do.
The head coach of the women’s soccer team has a decision to make before tomorrow night’s Big East game against West Virginia. Does he go with experience – in senior goalkeeper Rebecca Capinera who has been prone to some injury, but a solid producer between the posts since her freshman season – or, does he go with momentum – in freshman Kristin Russell, who posted six shutouts while Capinera nursed an ailing back, and has only given up one goal all year? Or, does he go with a combination of both?
The latter was his method on Sunday. Russell played the first half of the women’s soccer game against Princeton, Capinera got the second half. It was a decision that Stone admitted to going back-and-forth on three or four times.
Russell was her usually self in the first half. She gloved three saves in her quiet, always-in-the-right-place manner. Nothing went by her and the Storm went into halftime in a scoreless tie.
At halftime, I walked down from the press box to watch Capinera do some warm-ups. She looked fine. She was agile as ever and moved with that confident bounce of a senior athlete. “She’s been looking really good in practice,” Stone told me after his team’s 1-1 tie. “If she wasn’t ready, I wouldn’t have put her in.”
And Capinera did look good. She made what was the highlight reel save of the game on Princeton’s first corner kick of the match. Tiger midfielder Lisa Chinn sent a ball on net from the near corner, bending toward the nearside post, but Capinera flailed her body and just got her right hand on the ball and parried it over the top of the net. Turns out, it was a game-saving effort.
But just two minutes before the half ended, a Princeton midfielder took a shot from long range and this time the flailing senior’s right hand wasn’t able to parry it over the crossbar. Instead, she got it off the crossbar and it fell behind the goal line.
It was truly a perfect shot. Neither I, nor the coach would ever say it was a ball Russell would have easily saved.
“To me,” Stone said, “it’s tough to say that Kristin would’ve got the goal.”
But when the first overtime started, it was Russell back between the goalposts, and when neither team could find a way for a golden goal, she was out there again for the second extra period.
And after the game, as Stone waited for his video interview all by himself at the far end of Belson, he looked like a coach with a lot on his mind.
I asked him about the decision to use Capinera in the second half. He knew I had to and was going to. “The way she’s been playing [in practice] and what I know of her, she deserved the opportunity,” he answered.
And then I asked Stone about going forward. I asked how he would use his goaltenders in the tomorrow’s game. He knew I had to and was going to.
“No idea,” he said, and laughed. “I have to think about it and try to get things right in my own head and obviously we have a couple days of practice before we have to make the next decision.”
“It really all depends on how it goes on a daily basis and how it goes in practice more than anything else.”
They say in hockey that the team who wins the Stanley Cup each year is just the team with the hottest goaltender at the time, but they say in baseball that an experienced pitcher is better choice in a big game than a rookie who’s never been on the big stage.
But Stone has the ability to take a little from each athletic proverb, which is what he probably should do and has done numerous times in his career, as recently as last season when Capinera shared time with then-senior Jaime Beran.And the decision is not one that 15-year coach is shying from.
“It’s a tough decision,” Stone said, “but it’s a nice decision to have to make where you have two great goaltenders.”
It just better be the right decision, because all of this team’s wins this year have been a 1-0 shutout.