Shot. Saved by the crossbar. Rebound. Diving save. Rebound. Another save. A third rebound. Goal.
It was an inauspicious start for freshman goalie Madison Gates. Not even five minutes into her first collegiate start, she had already let in her first goal. But for the next 85 minutes of regulation and two 10-minute overtime periods, Gates played flawlessly, repeatedly turning away shot after shot from Texas A&M.
It was not necessarily the ideal first game, starting against an aggressive, physical team ranked No. 6 in the country. But Gates was able to overcome her initial nerves and held the Aggies without a goal the rest of the game, allowing her team to come back and get the 1-1 tie.
“I was nervous at first,” Gates said. “But slowly, intensity and adrenaline took over, and I just played.”
She knew it wasn’t going to be easy to play her first game against a team like Texas A&M, and, when the first goal was scored at 3:34, it was time for a gut-check.
“I’m pretty mentally strong,” Gates said. “So after I get scored on, I just stay confident, and I know I’ll get back on my game within a couple minutes.”
Junior goalkeeper Megan Tuura has a lot of experience in goal and knows how hard it is to get scored on early.
“It’s really hard to come back from a goal like that,” Tuura said. “So I thought she did an amazing job to come back the way she did and stay strong in there.”
Before the weekend games, Tuura was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week for a school-record fourth time. So it might have surprised some to see the freshman Gates in goal on Sunday. But Michigan coach Debbie Rademacher wanted to put Gates in, and she got just the results she wanted.
“We definitely need to have two goalkeepers with experience in case there is an injury,” Rademacher said. “And those two are both training really hard and competing really well, and they both have strengths that can help us, so we want to make sure that Madison gets experience as well.”
One commonly used strategy is to go easy on freshmen, bringing them along slowly and only giving them action after part of the season has passed. But that was not what Rademacher did with Gates.
“We are just going to kind of throw her in there,” Rademacher said. “We put her in against one of the top teams in the country, and she did great. We’re going to play it by ear with (Tuura and Gates) and just kind of take it week by week, look at our opponents and our matchups.”
One of Gates’s goals is to at least split playing time 50-50 with Tuura this season. And due to her performance on the practice field and in the game on Sunday, she looks like she could reach it.
“Right now, they are both training so hard and playing at such a high level that we really feel comfortable regardless of who’s in there,” Rademacher said. “Once we get to the playoffs, we will probably lean towards one, but right now, we feel great about both of them.”
The Wolverines want to win the Big Ten Championship this year. In order to do that, they need to have a goalkeeper they can trust. But the women’s soccer team might have just found their advantage over the competition. They have two.