Senior goalkeeper displays skill playing in place of All-American teammate
It’s extremely difficult to replace a star player in any sport, and in many cases, the newcomer fails to live up to the expectations left by their predecessor.
There has been no such nostalgia among the Rutgers women’s soccer team faithful this season, though, as redshirt senior Alana Jimenez has done a commendable job in net as the successor to All-American goalkeeper Casey Murphy.
Murphy, who would be entering her junior season for the Scarlet Knights (5-1-1), is currently working with the United States Women's National Soccer team as it prepares for the 2016 FIFA U-20 World Cup, a competition she is practically guaranteed to be called to participate in.
The Bridgewater, New Jersey, native is most likely taking a redshirt this season.
“Anytime you get a chance to represent your country, you’ve got to take it,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “We’re excited for Casey and rooting for her, but the focus is now on the team we have here.”
Jimenez, meanwhile, doesn’t have the collegiate accolades that Murphy has accrued, but by the same token, she is no slouch either.
Coming out of Ocean, New Jersey, the 5-foot-9 keeper was named Second Team All-Shore by both the Asbury Park Press and the Star-Ledger in her senior
She was also included on the 2012 ESPN High School Goalkeepers to Watch List.
“I went on a lot of visits, but Rutgers felt like home,” Jimenez said. “I was really excited to join the team.”
The Knights are sure glad to have her, as Jimenez has proved herself to be a competent replacement for Murphy.
In her first season as a starter, she has four shutouts, 23 saves and a goals against average of 0.56 goals per game.
“Alana has worked very hard and played tremendously,” said goalkeepers coach Lubos Ancin. “As a fifth-year senior with little game experience, she’s finally got her time and is showing why she deserves to be here.”
Jimenez’s lack of playing time was considered worrisome by some as she didn’t see any game action last year, which allowed her to redshirt and stay for a fifth season.
She has suffered several injuries over her tenure at Rutgers, but a love for the game of soccer kept her going through the tough moments.
“Alana is a great teammate and leader,” Ancin said. “She came back for a final year because wants to write her own story and leave without any regrets.”
That type of attitude should propel Jimenez to new heights despite the looming expectations that come with being the Rutgers starting goalkeeper.
Yet, it’s important to note is that it’s not just Jimenez who is attempting to replicate last year’s production.
Rutgers as a team rewrote the record books on numerous occasions in 2015, setting a new standard for the program.
The Knights won a record 19 matches, advanced to their first College Cup in the program’s fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament trip and ended the year ranked No. 4 in the National Soccer Coaches Association (NSCAA) Coaches Poll — their highest position ever.
So far this season, Rutgers possesses five wins, one draw and one loss, as well as the current No. 22 ranking in the latest NSCAA poll.
Although it’s not quite the mark the squad is used to, if Jimenez and company can succeed in the upcoming Big Ten schedule, then they can get right back to the top.
“Our goal this year is to win the Big Ten, even though we have a young team,” Jimenez said. “I’ve been preparing for this season for a long time and I’m ready for us to take another step forward with me being a part of it.”
The jury is still out on whether Jiminez could rise to Murphy's level come tournament time to help bring a championship to Rutgers, but so far she's done well.
Her teammates and coaches both seem to be confident in her abilities and leadership, which can only help the team’s chances at a potential Big Ten title.
“We’re very grateful that Alana came back for another year,” said senior midfielder Tori Prager. “It was a super honorable move and the team trusts her completely in net.”
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