TURLOCK — TURLOCK As the literal last line of defense, goalie Chelsea Lewandowski is a major reason for the success of the Cal State Stanislaus women's soccer team.
But the Warriors are hoping that Lewandowski's other responsibility, as the genesis of the offense, is what will lift the team to new heights this season. In short, Stanislaus has a goalie equally able with her hands and feet.
"Sunday was the eighth time this season we've given up two shots on goal or less in a game," said coach Gabe Bolton. "We keep the ball and pass the ball so well, and Chelsea is a big part of that we use our goalie in passing the ball, and she's so good with her feet.
"If you are in possession of the ball, it's less likely the other team will be getting off a shot. She's so good with her feet that she's not just a goalie but an 11th field player."
Using the goalkeeper in that very offensive way is a new wrinkle this season for the Warriors, who will take a No. 7 national and No. 1 West Region ranking into this week's games. The Stanislaus men and women travel to Hayward tonight to battle Cal State East Bay, then come home Sunday to face Sonoma State.
The Warrior women are 12-0-2 this season (10-0-2 in the California Collegiate Athletic Association,) with one of the ties a 2-2 draw at Sonoma on Sept. 20. That also is the only time this season they've allowed more than one goal.
The dominance is underscored by the statistics. Stanislaus has put 127 shots on goal to their opponents' 45 and has a goal advantage of 39-8.
"The defense does a great job of keeping the ball away from me, except of course when they're passing it to my feet," Lewandowski said. "They're blocking the shots, clearing the deflections."
Lewandowski, a sophomore from Citrus Heights, was named CCAA player of the week after a four-game road stretch in which Stanislaus went 3-0-1 and outscored its hosts 8-1. It put the Warriors in position to clinch the North Division championship with a sweep this weekend. They've already clinched a spot in the conference championship tournament, which they will host Nov. 8 and 10.
Stanislaus a perfect fit
It's exactly the position Lewandowski sought when she first stepped on campus two years ago.
"I was looking around for places to go to school, but it had to be close enough so that I could go home if I wanted," she said. "This was a perfect place close to home, I get to play soccer and with affordable tuition the best of all worlds."
She played a little in her first year, but prior to last season, with senior Millie Brower entrenched as the starting goalie, Lewandowski was given a choice. She either could hope for a few minutes of action or she could redshirt and be in the hunt for the starting role this year.
"Coming in, I saw that Millie was here," Lewandowski said. "I wanted to fight to play but I knew the situation. She was really good and had all the experience. Last year, I wanted to redshirt because Millie was going to play the whole season and I wanted the opportunity to keep playing afterward."
Brower indeed played the whole season every minute of every game. It left the Warriors without experience in net at the end of the year. Three keepers were in the running for the job Lewandowski, Giovana Treyes of Atwater and Brianna Murawski of Tracy.
"I was confident in our goalie situation at the end of the spring, but there was no clear-cut starter," Bolton said. "What made the difference for Chelsea is that she worked her butt off in the summer and came back a far-better athlete. It was exciting to see. All three girls are great examples of the attitude of keeping on working hard to get your chance."
Teammates believe in her
Once Lewandowski won the job, she had to win the confidence of her teammates, especially the back line.
"I played with Millie for two years and we were really comfortable," said junior defender Karli Nestler. "It was tough for Chelsea to come in, but she's done an incredible job and I trust her 100 percent. She's vocal and helps us, especially for this being her first year. She knows what to say and when to say it, so that's a big help."
But it all comes back to Lewandowski's feet. As the former self-professed "slow center-mid on all my teams," she brings field skills above those of most tenders, and it allows the Warriors to use the entire field in their ball-control game.
"That's one of the reasons she faces so few shots," Bolton said. "Chelsea touches the ball nine times more often with her feet than she does with her hands. The typical goalie at the highest levels of the game typically will use their feet six times more often than their hands. Having a goalie able to play with their feet is critical in the modern game."
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek
Stanislaus goalie trio needs education on name of its own weekly Webcast. Read Brian Vander-Beek's blog at modbee.com/blogsWEEKEND'S SCHEDULE
TODAYAt Cal State East Bay, HaywardWomen: 4:30 p.m.; Men: 7 p.m.
SUNDAYHome vs. Sonoma StateWomen: 11:30 a.m.; Men: 2 p.m.