Although field hockey is a team sport, there is one position that stands out — that of the goalkeeper. A team’s success starts and ends with the success of its goalie. However, although the goalie stands alone in front of the net, her role is not independent from the rest of the team.
“Obviously it’s a unique position in that the skill set is completely different,” said head coach Donna Hornibrook. “Sometimes people have heard in the past talk about it is almost an individual sport in a team game … but honestly as the game evolves, the integration of the goalkeeper in terms of being like a quarterback in the backfield and a back board in the defense, [the goalie] cannot afford to be isolated. [The goalie] really has to be part of the whole team, particularly the defense.”
The Cornell team has two goalies, junior Carolyn Horner and freshman Elizabeth Schaefller. Horner hails from Allentown, N.J. She served primarily as a back-up goalie her freshman year, but saw a lot more playing time during her sophomore season.
“Carolyn is outstanding for us this season — she is definitely the backbone of the team,” Hornibrook said. “We’ve known for a long time that she’s a good player, but she is really coming into her own … When she got time playing time last year as a sophomore she played fantastic, so we have a lot of confidence in her.”
Goaltending has been a part of Horner’s life for a long time.
“I started goalkeeping because my mom was a goalkeeper in college and I was a really terrible field hockey player in the field,” Horner said. “So, in seventh I switched over to goalie and I stuck with it.”
This past summer, Horner was selected to play on the Pennsylvania High Performance team, among some of the country’s top field hockey contenders.
“Players from all over the country — the best college and non-college players — have gone to this program,” Hornibrook said. “[Horner] was selected to play for Pennsylvania in the national championship … I think the experience she gained this summer playing some of the best players in the country was really useful for her.”
One of the highlights of the experience for Horner, aside from getting another chance to play competitive field hockey in a different setting, was getting to interact with Olympic-level field hockey players.
“The best part is that the Olympians are also divided amongst the [regional] teams,” she said. “Two of my teammates went to London and the best part was getting to know them as friends and athletes. Having the opportunity to play with Olympic players really gave me the opportunity to see their routines and their work ethic [was incredible] … and to play up to their intensity was awesome, especially as a college athlete to get that experience.”
However, according to her coach, Horner has no problem providing a work ethic and an intensity of her own at Cornell.
“Carolyn has a terrific work ethic — she is a very hard worker, she’s very focused and calm under pressure,” Hornibrook said. “Her composure is what impresses us the most. She is technically sound but also she really does not get frazzled very often … Really since she’s a freshman she has carried her own work ethic.”
The Red’s other netminder, Schaeffler, hails from Timonium, Md. and is fresh out of high school. Although she has only been here for a few weeks, she is already making contributions to the team.
“She has made adjustments for the collegiate level [and is improving],” Hornibrook said. “She got an opportunity to play in our first game, and she did really well.”
“As an individual I am working on my foot speed and timing,” Schaeffler said. “As a team we are always working to be the best that we can be. Just improving as a team is just the greatest feeling because we want to do so well. It’s hard to explain but what one person does well, everyone does well.”
While Schaeffler echoed Hornibrook’s sentiment that the goalie is still a vital part of the team, the goalie still does face individual challenges.
“A ball coming at you 100 miles an hour [is definitely the hardest part],” Hornibrook said. “People can really crack a ball and it’s a big cage. The keeper is the only one allowed to play the ball with her feet. Getting back to the evolution of the game, some of the rule changes have really opened the game and made it more offensive … balls really are flying.”
Schaeffler pointed to another aspect of goaltending that sometimes proves challenging.
“The hardest part is definitely the mental pressure,” she said. “It’s getting scored on and forgetting the last goal and how it went if it was a bad goal. [Learning to] forget and then moving on and reevaluating after the game — not letting it affect your performance the whole time.”
That being said, the extra pressure comes with extra payoff.
“The thing with being goalie it’s a really bad feeling when you’re not having a good game but when it’s a great game, it’s the best feeling in the world, and that feeling outweighs the bad feeling,” Schaeffler said. “That’s so hard to describe and hard to capture, but it’s the best feeling in the world when you know you are helping your team and having such an amazing game as a goalkeeper.”
So far, Schaeffler says she has been enjoying her time on the Red and adjusting smoothly.
“It’s been going really well — I am really improving,” she said. “The coaches are phenomenal; I couldn’t ask for a better coaching staff. They are all really helping and I’m definitely doing a lot better, so is everybody … The team is so welcoming and so kind, they are the best and I love them.”
Two years further in her career, Horner feels the same strong connection to her teammates.
“The best part about playing at Cornell has been my teammates,” she said. “We really are like a family off the field and I think on the field it shows that we work together really great. Also it has been just a lot of fun playing here. I think that if you are going to play a sport in college you really need to enjoy the sport because you spend so much time doing it and we really love going out and playing every day and working hard.”