The vast improvement of the Clemson women’s soccer team this season has much to do with better defending, and no one has been more influential in that respect than freshman goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan.
A native of Whitby, Ontario, Sheridan was the starting goalkeeper on the Canadian National Team that won the silver medal at the CONCACAF U-17 World Cup Qualifiers in Guatemala, and which later advanced to the quarterfinals of the Women’s U-17 World Cup in Azerbaijan.
Naturally, with that kind of pedigree and international experience, Sheridan was considered to be one of the top freshman recruits in the country, and she hasn’t wasted time in establishing herself as one of the better net-minders in the perennially powerful ACC.
In fact, and heading into the final week of the regular season, Sheridan was among the league-leaders in saves, save-percentage, and solo shutouts.
“I feel pretty good about the season, so far,” said Sheridan. “I’m proud of how we’ve played, and not just me. You can’t just leave it up to me, and my defense has been incredible. I mean, my stats are good, but it’s also my defense.”
One of Sheridan’s best stretches of the season encompassed back-to-back shutouts in matches against N.C. State and Duke. In the Tigers’ 1-0 road-win over N.C. State, Sheridan pivotally saved a penalty kick, and then subsequently kept another clean sheet in a scoreless double overtime draw with Duke.
“As for saving the PK at N.C. State, when we had it happen, nobody was sure quite about the call,” Sheridan recounted. “But you just have to take it one step at a time when things go wrong in a game. You just have to face it, and luckily I came out strong and was able to show that we can stand up and go against adversity. We kept ourselves in the game against a good team, and it helped us quite well, because then we could turn around and win the game.”
Tiger coach Eddie Radwanski said that the penalty kick save at N.C. State exemplifies Sheridan’s importance to the team’s success this season.
“It was a penalty that was called, and Kailen just used her instincts, and read the kid’s intent, and was able to make a big save,” said Radwanski. “That was a game where we were totally dominating, and all of a sudden you’re looking at, ‘Oh no, they’ve got a PK!’ But she’s a unique player, and makes that save, and keeps us in the game, and twenty minutes later we get the goal.
“We feel very confident that we have somebody at a high level that’s back there, and we trust her and know that she’s going to keep us in games. That just gives us a great belief within our team. I’ve been on teams before where if you don’t have confidence in a keeper, you’re just always kind of looking over your shoulders. Out team doesn’t do that, because we have a great support-system back there.”
In terms of her physical abilities, Sheridan has no evident weaknesses. Quick and agile as a shot-stopper, she’s also strong in the air, and can send a ball from box-to-box with her elite-caliber kicking game. With those kinds of skills on call, Sheridan says that the challenges of being a keeper tend to be more mental.
“I started out as a striker, but I love diving around,” she said. “As a goalkeeper there’s a lot less sprinting and stuff. I think being a goalkeeper is more mentally taxing, and being a striker is more physically taxing. I have to stay in tune the whole game, just in case something goes wrong. As a striker you do have to do that, but you also have to stay completely physically engaged. So I think it’s kind of on that level.”
Radwanski noted that lapses of any sort have been rare in Sheridan’s case.
“She’s so good with her feet, and she’s rock-solid,” said Radwanski. “She’s going to keep us in games, and as I’ve said before, I think she’s one of the best keepers in the conference even though she’s a freshman. And it’s nice to know we’ve got that security back there, that if something happens, she’ll, for the most part, have it covered. It’s going to take something special to beat her.”