Nov. 22, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. - Sophomore goalkeeper Emily Oliver is an All-America candidate for Stanford, which heads into an NCAA quarterfinal match against visiting Oklahoma State on Friday at 7 p.m. Oliver leads the nation in goals-against average (0.22) and has allowed only four goals in 1,668 minutes. She has 10 shutouts individually on a team that has 16 this season.
She recently talked about her improvement, her performance in last year's NCAA final, and even about cars and coffee in this interview:
Q: How does the postseason feel different than the regular season?
A: Everything's just more exciting, I suppose. Everybody's just a little bit sharper and realizes the consequences of each game.
Q: The past four matches have all been played in the rain, but Stanford's won all four by shutout. Are there any precautions you have to take if the conditions are wet?
A: I'm fortunate that I came from Chicago, so I've probably experienced every kind of weather - snow, rain, anything. I think it's been great for us to play the last couple of weekends in the colder wet conditions, because we're more prepared than any other team to play in that type of environment now. For me personally, it's just a matter of getting there early, because the ball skips when it's wet, and also just a little extra focus to be ready for any kind of ball skip or deflection that can come up.
Q: You have an incredible defense. In the past 17 games, the team's allowed only two goals in the run of play. Every season, the Stanford defense seems to get better as the season goes along.
A: The coaching definitely makes us sharper. Also, we get used to playing with each other and learn the different tendencies. Even from year to year, getting back from the summer takes getting use to each other. We have such a solid back four, that over time, whenever somebody makes a mistake somebody's there to cover it. That's why we're so successful.
Q: It seems like central defender Alina Garciamendez sets the tone with the defense.
A: She's definitely she's all over the place. She's an outstanding player in all facets of the game, but what makes her stand out from other center backs is her ability to read the game. She can see it coming two passes before it happens. She knows it's going to happen.
Q: What about you? What do people need to understand about what you do besides making saves?
A: I think since I've been at Stanford, I've gotten a lot better in terms of communication with my back line. One of the most important things I personally feel is that the back line just plays more confidently when you're a presence and vocal behind them, in terms of organization and discipline, I suppose. It just gives them confidence in doing their job, knowing that you're backing them up. It was one of my strengths in high school and I think it's gotten better with Jay and Paul coaching me and being around great players who foster that ability to be a presence back there.
Q: What advantages did you gain by training with a boys club team in high school rather than playing for your high school girls' team?
A: It was a personal decision for me in getting prepared to come into the college game from high school. I just wanted to make that transition as smooth as possible. So, playing with the boys' team was great because the play is faster, it's more physical, the shots are harder. It helped me tremendously by putting me in more challenging situations in high school to prepare me for the speed and physicality of the college game.
Q: Are you intimidated by anything after going through that?
A: It definitely toughened me up a little bit. But one thing I knew was going to be great coming into college, but surprised me a little bit last year and this year, was the great players I have in front of me. Honestly, it's such a huge advantage. It's so unbelievably nice to have them in front of me that it makes my job a heck of a lot easier.
Q: Did you play any games with the boys' team, and was that OK with the guys?
A: No, I just trained with them. They were OK with with me there. They didn't give me a hard time or anything. We got along OK.
Q: Your dad, John, is a big Formula One fan.
A: Both my dad and my brother (Jack) are huge car guys. They're both mechanical engineers so they're all about the technical aspects of racing. My brother races downhill mountain bikes on the club team at the University of Vermont. So I think he's looking to get into a job involving the technical parts, like the suspension or something. Between the two of them, they love racing and they love cars. I can't say I know that much, but I know a few things about cars and racing and that kind of stuff, just growing up with them.
They both actually race go-karts. I went a couple of times this summer. They race at this little track an hour away from home. That was kind of fun. You have to have your own kart, and pay a track fee and it's an open track day. And my dad sometimes will go to the track and race his own kart.
Q: I think your parents like Peet's coffee, too. I saw them once at Town & Country loading up with a bag of coffee beans.
A: We don't have Peet's in Chicago. They like Dunkin' Donuts, too. I don't know if they have those around here. I think I'm the only one in my family who doesn't drink coffee. My brother's a huge coffee fan. He has a French press and everything. He's all about coffee. They're serious about coffee in my family.
Q: What were you a fan of as a kid? What would you have on the walls of your room?
A: Well, I had a bunch of soccer stuff, of course. I had door-size posters of Mia Hamm and David Beckham.
Q: No Nicole Barnhart?
A: Barnie would be up there now, let's be honest. I had car posters up too. Thanks to my dad. I think I had a couple of Porsche 911s. I actually have my first set of goalie gloves up on my wall that I got when I was 8 years old.
Q: Do you have a car here?
Q: What is it?
A: It's a Mini Cooper S. Silver. One of the cool things is everyone in my family can drive a stick. These days it's not so common. My Mini's a stick, too. I just think it's practical to drive a stick, even though it's not totally necessary these days. It makes it more fun.
Q: You had an incredible game in a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Notre Dame in last year's NCAA final. Did you have any mixed feelings about that game? Obviously, a tough loss, but you also seemed to prove yourself to the country.
A: For a long time, I really didn't care how I played, to be honest with you. The fact that we lost ... I was telling my mom this about a week after the game: In a situation like that, it's probably the most emotional I've felt about playing. Winning or losing, it would be either the happiest I've felt in my life, or the most down I've felt in my life.
It was true. I literally felt like my heart was broken in that game - all the work you put in, the time and everything. Just your relationship with the girls ... to come that close and lose ... that feeling just stuck with me for a long time. And then, yeah, after a while I realized I had a good game. I ended up getting a call into the (U.S.) U-20's based on my performance in that game, and there were definitely a couple of positives that did come out of that performance. But, it's hard to put this into words, but the disappointment definitely overwhelms any kind of feeling I have in my own performance.
Q: Instead of the five or six great saves you made in that game, do you think of the one that you didn't make?
A: Yeah. But for me, the most important part is the team. So, the fact that we didn't win regardless of how I played just weighed on me. That one that went in definitely stuck with me for a long time.
Q: How different is this year's team, in style or strengths?
A: I just think everybody has stepped up their game from last year. At every position, everybody's just raised their level. I was most impressed with the work ethic in the winter and spring and summer. Everybody came in fit to preseason. And every day throughout the fall, everybody's just focused on getting better. We have some great freshmen coming in that give us a spark. But also all the returners just have another year under their belt in terms of experience. Also, having that experience of having lost in the national championship makes you realize not only what is at stake, but what it takes to win. I know, for me, that's the difference from last year to this year. And I know everybody on this team feels some kind of feeling like that this year.
Q: How has goalkeepers coach Jay Cooney helped you?
A: Jay is awesome. I love coming to practice every day because I not only know I'm going to learn a ton, but I'm going to have a ton of fun. Goalkeeper training is probably the highlight of my practice, hanging out with Lindsay (Dickerson) and Aly (Gleason). Every day, we just have a blast. Whenever it's time to work, we get down to business, and I've learned so much not only technically, but also mentally. I'm learning so much. My distribution, specifically with my feet, has improved a lot. I've made a couple of saves I wouldn't have been able to make in high school. It's just opened my eyes to a lot of things that I can work on and improve. Also, I know I can improve, given hard work and his instruction. I realize there are a lot of things I can do better.
Q: Did you ever think you knew it all?
A: I wouldn't say I knew it all, but I can definitely say there are a lot of things I didn't even realize I should be working on.
Q: Who can do more pushups, you or Aly G?
A: Oh gosh. Based on her ROTC background, I think it would be Aly G. But I think it would be tough. We give each other a run for our money in the gym, for sure. She's a competitor.
Q: It helps to have Aly and Lindsay pushing you?
A: For sure. It's a very unique environment that we have in terms of goalkeepers. We have a lot of fun and we work really hard, and we are competing, but we love to encourage each other. So when one of us makes a big save, everybody's excited about it. And it's not an artificial cheer. We're genuinely excited when the other one excels. It fosters competition, but it also fosters teamwork and friendship. I think it's an unbeatable environment.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics