Poise under pressure key in kicks

Story by Kyle Davis

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The act and routine of taking a penalty kick can be practiced, but the experience cannot.

Having a crowd full of people in an opposing stadium wanting you to miss, which happened when Baker University’s women’s soccer team faced Graceland University Nov. 10 in Lamoni, Iowa, can’t be practiced.

Having the ball at your feet, after already playing for 120 minutes, can’t be practiced.

Standing 12 yards away, only a goalkeeper standing in the way, with not only the match, but also the season on the line, can’t be practiced.

“You can’t even practice for it. It is just such a different situation once you get into a game,” goalkeeper Maggie Dupes said. “Just the pressure, you can’t simulate pressure at practice.”

So, what does a kicker need without practice?

Confidence.

Senior Christine Janssens took and made the first penalty kick against Graceland, setting the tone for the rest of the shootout. Janssens said the most pressure falls on the kicker, because the higher probability is the kicker will score the goal.

“It’s more of a mental game, for sure, than a skillful game,” Janssens said. “So, for me, just going through my head, in general, I was trying to be confident. Of course I was nervous, it’s my senior year, my whole season rides on this first penalty kick.”

Baker has a goalkeeper that is also confident, and actually enjoys the high-pressure situation of a penalty shootout. With the odds against her, Dupes saved the first shot against Graceland, giving the Wildcats the early advantage.

“You just have to be patient and wait and read where the kicker is leaning toward and then go from there,” Dupes said.

Dupes would save another shot in the shootout, as Baker won 3-2 on penalty kicks to advance to the HAAC Championship match.

“You can tell that she does have that mentality because she does so well during pk’s,” Janssens said. “Even when we were practicing them, she would guess the right corner and if they scored, it was because it was a really good shot.”

As junior Ashley Ukena stood with the rest of her team before the shootout, envisioning where the kick would go if she were given the chance, the exhaustion of 120 minutes of play wasn’t on her mind.

“I don’t think being tired had even gone through my mind when we were out there shooting,” Ukena said. “When we were standing there, watching everybody kick, I wasn’t tired. It’s just like on Friday (in the HAAC Championship match), it was raining and pouring, and it was freezing, but we weren’t cold because you’re just so into the game and you just want to win. So, everything else kind of goes away.”

The penalty shootout victory gave the Wildcats another match, a chance to continue their season and with this, it gave them confidence.

“I think our confidence is huge,” Ukena said. “I think we know we can win. I think we know we were better and I think everybody got the nervous jitters out and … as long as you go up there and focus, we know we can do it.” 

While the team has confidence going into the national tournament, another penalty shootout brings back the familiar pressures without caring what happened last time.

“You’re in this pk shootout, it doesn’t matter that you won the last pk shootout, it doesn’t matter that you beat the No. 6 team in the nation, No. 13 team in the nation. If you can’t score these pk’s, you’re going to lose to x, y or z,” Janssens said. “I think the momentum helps more, like, going into the actual game and the real, live play and once you get to pk’s, it’s like everything in the past just … it doesn’t matter.”