The cliché is that defense wins championships.
Last year, Duke struggled mightily in that department, allowing 34 goals as it missed the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive year.
Luckily, the 2015 Blue Devils are more than secure in the business of protecting the net. Head coach John Kerr’s roster has not one, not two, but three goalkeepers—all of whom are qualified to fill the starting role.
“They’re training really, really well and they’re a great commodity amongst the group,” Kerr said. “We hope it lasts the rest of the season because it’s good to have goalkeepers on their toes ready to go in there. We don’t even know if our decision for this weekend will be a lasting one, so we’ll have to take it day-by-day moving forward.”
The first option is graduate transfer Mitch Kupstas, who played four seasons at Brown while completing his undergraduate degree. In his senior season with the Bears, the Suwanee, Ga., native started a career-high 16 games and his .763 save percentage and 1.04 goals against average both ranked third among Ivy League keepers. He also ranked fourth in the league with 58 saves on the season and recorded six shutouts for Brown.
Kupstas spent his summer playing for the Georgia Revolution in the National Premier Soccer League with Duke teammate Cameron Moseley. The Revolution went 4-4-2 on the season, finishing 13th in the South Region and third in the Southeast Conference.
After straying from the collegiate game for a few months, Kupstas came to Durham ready to compete in his last year of eligibility, and said he has adjusted well to his new team.
“[Playing at Duke] has definitely been a new experience,” Kupstas said. “It’s been really easy because the guys have been so nice. It’s definitely a tough level playing in the ACC, so it’s been a bit of an adjustment for me there, but I’m here ready to work hard and put in a fight, and I’ve been enjoying it so far.”
Another viable choice to start in goal is Wilson Fisher, who played with the Blue Devils for four years before graduating in the spring. He decided to stay on for his final year of eligibility as a graduate student after posting a respectable senior year in goal. The Birmingham, Ala., native played in nine games in the 2014 season, filling in down the stretch when starter Joe Ohaus was sidelined due to injury. He started each of the final six contests of the year and made 27 saves to earn a 4-2 record. Fisher ended the season with a 1.25 goals against average and a .771 save percentage.
Like Kupstas, Fisher also spent his summer fine-tuning his skills by playing professionally. He joined fellow Blue Devils Cody Brinkman, Macario Hing-Glover, Tyler Hilliard, Zach Mathers and Luis Rendon in suiting up for the Carolina Railhawks U23 squad. The Railhawks went 3-6-3 on the season.
“Preseason for me went pretty well because I was lucky enough to spend some time with the U23 Railhawks team over the summer, which gave me some preparation going into the preseason,” Fisher said. “I also stayed and worked out with our strength coach so I felt pretty good physically. When it comes to the other guys, competition amongst goalkeepers is always good because it pushes you to the next level. Mitch and Wade have both been doing really well and pushing me.”
The wildcard in the race is the youngest player of the three—senior Wade Clement, who has been on the team since his freshman year, but has yet to see game action. Clement has made noticeable strides in his time as a Blue Devil—evidenced by the fact that he is contending for time in goal despite one of the deepest goaltending rosters in Kerr’s tenure.
One choice Kerr will not have at his disposal is Ohaus—who played in 12 games as a freshman last year. Kerr said Ohaus has decided to leave the team to pursue other interests, but remains enrolled as a Duke student. The Westfield, N.J., native finished the 2014 season averaging 2.00 goals against. He also boasted a .634 save percentage and a 5-7-1 record.
“Joe Ohaus decided to leave the team for personal reasons,” Kerr said. “He’s sort of changing his focus on what he wants to do. According to him, it had nothing to do with the team, it was just his own desire to explore other opportunities.”
Both of the Blue Devils’ exhibition games featured the normal two 45-minute periods followed by a third 30-minute period. In their first exhibition game against College of Charleston, Kupstas and Wilson each played one half of regulation with Wade and Ohaus splitting the final 30-minute period. In Duke’s second exhibition game against No. 17 UNC Charlotte, Kupstas and Wilson once again played an entire 45-minute period and Wade took the extra 30-minute period for himself.
With a trio of legitimate goalkeepers in his back pocket, Kerr is still struggling to pen one in as the starter and is keeping his options open heading into the season opener Friday.
“We have great goalkeeping options, and right now Mitch and Wilson are challenging for the number one spot, with Wade as a close third,” Kerr said. “We’re working on it day-by-day to figure out what direction we’re going to go in and we haven’t made a decision yet....It’s a good problem for a coach to have.”
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