Brooke Heinsohn always knew she would wind up a Blue Devil.
Both her parents graduated from Duke in the early 1980s, and her dad, Paul, played football for three seasons while in Durham. By the time Brooke was in third grade, she told her mom that she wanted to be next in line.
"She said, 'If you get a full ride to Duke, I’ll buy you a new car or I’ll buy you a new TV or something,'" Heinsohn said with a laugh. "She hasn’t kept up her end of the bargain."
But Brooke certainly has, and then some.
Heinsohn already has six shutouts through nine games in her first season as a starter—making her just one of seven goalkeepers in the nation with a half-dozen or more. And since the Blue Devils' stunning loss to Illinois a little more than a month ago, Duke has ripped off a tie and six wins, with Heinsohn a major reason why.
Plenty of potential
Growing up in Boston, Heinsohn's last name carried a lot of weight. Her grandfather, Tommy, won 10 titles with the Celtics organization—two as a coach and eight as a player, including seven straight from 1959-65.
Brooke, however, was bound for the grass and not the hardwood.
"They’d drive [her older sister to] practice and Brooke would be over on the sideline just kicking the ball around," Tommy said. "Nobody talked to her or anything because she was a kid, but that’s how she got introduced to soccer."
Up until sixth grade, Brooke split time as both a striker and a goalie. Heinsohn's club coach encouraged her at that point to make a choice, and already tall for her age, she opted to stick in net.
By high school, Heinsohn was all in on the position. She supplemented her high school practices with extra goalkeeper training after school and club soccer for New England Futbol Club, which she helped to a national championship just before her senior year.
After Heinsohn graduated high school in 2016, U.S. Soccer came calling, with the U-20 Women's World Cup on the horizon.
"We had our last camp when they were making the roster in June and I was supposed to be going into preseason that August," Heinsohn said. "I found out that I made the roster, and I was talking to [Blue Devil head coach] Robbie [Church] the whole time and I was like, 'I think if I get the opportunity, I’m going to go.'"
Instead of coming to Duke, Heinsohn deferred for a semester, heading more than 9,000 miles to Papua New Guinea. She didn't play a minute in the entire tournament, instead watching as her team finished fourth.
By the time Heinsohn got to Durham in January 2017, she was playing "catch-up," trying to make friends and fit in amongst a cohesive group that had nearly made it to the College Cup semifinals the past fall.
Heinsohn, despite having been out of competitive action for nearly an entire year, entered the 2017 season in contention for the Blue Devils' starting nod.
"Her potential to be a big-time goalkeeper was there early," Church said. "Her length, just the size of her.... We knew that if she had worked hard, she would be a very, very good goalkeeper."
'We all have hard days'
Ultimately, Heinsohn began her first collegiate season on the bench. Church chose then-senior EJ Proctor as Duke's top netminder, and one could argue the decision paid off—the Blue Devils made it to last year's Final Four before losing in a penalty shootout to UCLA.
Heinsohn battled through her time as a reserve, something unfamiliar to the former Gatorade Player of the Year.
"It was definitely hard coming to practice every day and trying to give it my all," Heinsohn said. "I obviously wanted to be out on the field.... I lost a little bit of confidence. It was hard to know that I was losing those things and see myself morph into a different player in a negative way."
Duke goalkeeper coach and video coordinator Lane Davis acknowledged that, though he didn't necessarily notice Heinsohn's specific struggles, there are inherent challenges as a first-year keeper at the collegiate level.
"It’s hard to come into a new environment," Davis said. "We all have hard days, but what I would say is that she didn’t have bad days. It is hard sometimes to show up and grind it out every day, but that’s the maturation process for players in their first year…. That’s a challenge and it’s very difficult, but she handled it very well and she is where she is for grinding out those days."
In her lowest moments, Heinsohn turned to her family for support.
"My mom doesn’t know much about soccer, so I just talked to her and she was just like, 'I love you anyways, even if you’re not playing, if you’re not the starting goalkeeper, I still love you," Heinsohn said. "When I’m on the field, I’m on the field, and when I’m off the field, I’m just where I am in the moment."
Heinsohn even checked in with her Hall of Fame grandfather every once in a while.
"He’s a pretty busy guy. He likes to go up to Maine and paint and everything, and he doesn’t really know how to use his cellphone," she said with a laugh. "He’s always pushed me to just enjoy whatever I’m doing. He was never concerned about needing to win."
In many ways, Heinsohn doesn't fit the mold of a typical Blue Devil goalkeeper.
"You have to know what kind of keeper you want for your program," Davis said when asked how Duke evaluates keeper prospects. "With the style of play that we do and the attributes that we need from our goalkeeper, size isn’t the most important one. You’re looking more for the kind of player that can do other things."
Heinsohn has proven she can do those things.
With a powerful leg, she has the ability to break lines and free her team of pressure at the back. Plus, as a former field player, she has the control to set up the Blue Devil attack from within their final third.
Heinsohn also has an aggressive streak. Late in Duke's game against Providence Sept. 2 when a Friar attacker tried to bump Heinsohn following a saved corner kick, the Blue Devil netminder responded quickly with a strong shove and a scowl.
Just another day in the life of a goalie.
"You don’t make it to this level unless you have an intensity in those minutes," Davis said. "We talk a lot about once you cross those lines into pregame or training, it’s about the job you have to do…. There’s a presence and a command that a goalkeeper must have."
Heinsohn is still learning on the job. And still, her biggest tests lie ahead with ACC play just getting underway.
For the Blue Devils to regain their status as a top-10 team and make a run at both a conference title and their first-ever national title, Heinsohn will have to figure some things out quickly in one of the country's toughest leagues.
But there's one thing she knows already: "You can’t take any days off."
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A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."