LAS VEGAS — Two years ago during tryouts at Arbor View High School, girls soccer coach Jay Howard told the players in a meeting the team had no goalie and he was looking for someone to seize the role.
Then-freshman Haylee Niemann half-heartedly raised her hand, knowing she was volunteering to take over a crucial position for the two-time defending state champion Aggies.
It’s a move that has paid off for both Arbor View, currently ranked No. 21 in the USA TODAY Sports/National Soccer Coaches Association Super 25, and Niemann.
The junior goalkeeper broke the state record, according to the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association record book, with her 31st career shutout after a 9-0 win against Desert Oasis (Enterprise, Nev.).
“I didn’t really know what I was doing at first, but I thought I would give it a try because I was tall, and it’s really helped me develop my skills,” said Niemann, who normally plays midfield or defense. “Since freshman year, my teammates have been there. Samm (Blanchard) and Madi (Boyd) have been amazing. They stop pretty much everything. We have a great defense.”
Just after setting the record, Niemann was quick to give credit to her teammates via Twitter:
“Her freshman year, she supported us back there when we needed a keeper,” said Boyd, a senior. “I think it’s not just the defenders, it’s the whole team. If it wasn’t for our forwards and midfielders, and us having to defend the whole time, I’m not sure where we would be. But when Haylee needs to step in, she steps in gets the ball.”
Like at the 76-minute mark on Tuesday, when Howard had several reserves in and Niemann was seeing more action in front of her net than she had the entire game. A flurry of shots sent her diving to the ground to thwart Desert Oasis’ effort and make a crucial save to help preserve the shutout.
Niemann finished the game with four saves, while junior Hannah Ferrara scored a hat trick for the Aggies. Also scoring for Arbor View was Deja Erickson, Poppy Cartledge, Sierra Vicente, Allyssa Larkin, Madisen Carter and Blanchard.
Arbor View opened the season last weekend with two games in St. George, Utah, where the Aggies (2-0-1) defeated Snow Canyon, 4-0, and tied Desert Hills, 1-1.
But Tuesday was easily their strongest effort, at both ends of the field. And while the Aggies and everyone in attendance were aware of Niemann’s milestone, the 5-foot-10 keeper said this record needed to be shared.
“It’s really nice to hear that defense gets the recognition,” Blanchard said. “Normally you hear the forwards getting known for scoring, and the goalie getting recognition for saves. So it can be difficult for a defender to find the will to go all out at times, when your hard work is overlooked. But hearing that she recognizes us makes us feel appreciated and drives us to work harder for the team.”
Niemann, who has been playing soccer for 10 years, recorded 10 shutouts her freshman season, 19 shutouts her sophomore year and has already registered two in Arbor View’s first three games.
“That first year she wasn’t super confident throughout, and actually in the state finals she played her best game, she had a few big saves and from that moment on she has been on top of her game,” Howard said. “This year she is at a different level as a keeper. And it’s not just her confidence, but our confidence in her. I know when a shot is taken, she’s going to make the save.”
With the state record out of the way, both Howard and Niemann said it’s a nice distraction to be rid of, as the Aggies can now focus on defending the state title the program has won four consecutive years.
The national record for career shutouts is 75 by Holly VanNoord (2009-12), of Unity Christian in Hudsonville, Mich.