Records are meant to be broken, but they are not supposed to be broken easily. Tell that to Elon University women’s soccer goalkeeper Kate Murphy. She would think otherwise.
Just four games into her junior season with the Phoenix, Murphy has already recorded three shutouts in helping the Phoenix to a fast start at 3-0-1. The three clean sheets have propelled her to 16 career shutouts in two full seasons and four games with Elon, and she’s four shutouts away from breaking the program record for the most in a career by an Elon goalkeeper.
“There’s a lot of pressure on me with this, but that’s the way it works,” Murphy said. “It’s pretty exciting to be where I am though this fast.”
Currently, the record stands at 20, which was set in 1991 by Heather Kline. Since the mark was set, nobody has come closer to breaking it than Kristin Facella, who finished her career in 1996 with 17.5 career clean sheets. Five more clean sheets through the team’s remaining 15 regular season games and Murphy will stand alone at the top of the list.
We want her
From the start, Elon head coach Chris Neal saw something in Murphy he knew he wanted between the pipes for the Phoenix. And while she was getting looks from large schools, nobody made a concrete offer like Elon.
Knowing the role a goalkeeper plays for the team, Neal saw someone with a good starting base to be competitive at the college level with a good body for the position that would only continue to get bigger with time in goal.
“Goalkeepers can literally win or lose your games based on their performance, so it’s obviously a huge part of the game,” Neal said. “What I saw in her was a good frame and somebody that was going to continue to grow, whose shoulders were going to widen as she got older. I saw a future presence in goal for us.”
That future presence quickly became the present before the 2011 season.
Coming in hot
Battling with two incumbent goalkeepers in preseason, Murphy beat out the two and earned the starting job as a freshman. The starting nod came sooner than expected, but didn’t come as a surprise to Neal.
“We knew she was going to challenge right away to be our starting goalkeeper. She had the right confidence for it,” Neal said. “Recruiting Murphy wasn’t hard for me because I saw real potential a couple years down the road. But she came in as a freshman and she earned the starting spot faster than I anticipated. But she earned it.”
According to senior midfielder Kimmie Krauss, Murphy has had the support of the team from the start after her strong opening preseason in 2011.
“She came in and looked really good,” Krauss said. “I think we knew just with her in goal that we would get a boost at the back even though she was a freshman. She earned the spot and ran with it.”
Check your six
A factor playing into the three early season shutouts in 2013 has been the pressure Murphy is getting in practice from backup keepers Sydney Branson, a sophomore transfer from Clemson University, and freshman Taylor Mohr.
“Last year, our senior backup goalkeeper was struggling with injury and sometimes, Murphy was all we had,” Neal said. “But what is making her even better this year is she’s got competition behind her. She’s being pushed internally by two kids that really want to play and that’s going to help her more than anything.”
Shannon Cosgrove served as the backup in 2012, but battled injuries for most of the season. That didn’t allow her to push Murphy into an uncomfortable zone, which is what she gets now from Branson and Mohr.
“They’re really good goalkeepers and it’s nice to have people that are going to push you and make you better every time we get after it in training,” Murphy said. “It’s always great competition to have and it’s making not only me, but all three of us better.”
Pressure from her own position isn’t the only factor pushing Murphy toward the career shutout record, though.
Help in front
Throughout her career with the Phoenix, Murphy has had quick, reliable defenders in front of her with great consistency.
Recent graduates Andrea Keller and Claire O’Keeffe both played every game throughout their respective four years at Elon and helped keep the ball from even getting to Murphy in the first place. Currently, she also has Krauss, senior Olivia Mackey and freshmen Rachel Hallman and Erin Tanhauser.
“No question she’s had help,” Neal said. “Claire O’Keeffe started every single game her four years here. That provided a tremendous amount of consistency back there. This year, we’ve got two freshmen starting at the back that played at very high levels at their clubs and have stepped right in and done well.”
With 16 career shutouts in two-plus seasons, Murphy knows how much Keller and O’Keeffe contributed to her approaching the record. She points to their leadership, which helped her transition to Elon quickly and allowed her to settle in and focus on soccer to earn the starting job.
“I’ve had great leadership in the back with Claire and Keller,” Murphy said. “They obviously started and played every game of their careers. So it was definitely nice to come in under them. They were a really big help. They got me acclimated with the team.”
If Neal had his way, it wouldn’t just be Murphy and goalkeepers across the country getting the only credit for shutouts.
“It’s a shame the defenders don’t get any note at all in a shutout,” he said. “But that’s the goalkeepers’ privilege, I guess.”
Murphy can finish her career atop three categories — shutouts, games played in goal and games started in goal — in the Elon record books. One she will not be on top of is most career saves because the defense has been too good through the years.
“We certainly hope she won’t get there on that,” Neal said. “That would mean we’re doing something wrong.”
A two-game absence due to injury at the start of the 2012 season is the only adversity Murphy has faced on the injury front. Due to an injury to Cosgrove as well, then-junior forward Catherine Brinkman was forced between the pipes. She gave up eight goals against Duke University in her final appearance in goal before Murphy returned.
“Kate is such a leader from the back,” Brinkman said. “She’s been great for us. I want nothing more than for her to get it this year. We trust her with so much back there and we trust her with every word that comes out of her mouth.”
This year, Murphy has stepped into a leadership role as one of the team’s four captains. She said she has credits defensive players like O’Keeffe and Keller as a reason she’s been able to make the jump.
“I’m really stepping up into a big leadership role with two freshmen at the back,” she said. “But our defense has been solid throughout my career and they’ve taught me how to handle this situation, so that’s been big.”
Though Murphy is playing like she’s a senior in going for records with a year to spare, Neal knows he has his starting keeper for another season, which he said can only be beneficial to her.
“Her best days are still ahead of her,” he said. “She’s maturing as a student athlete, slowly learning what it takes to be a leader and a captain, so her best days are definitely ahead of her. It doesn’t come as a surprise to me that she’s in this position.”
As for whether Murphy is thinking about the record, Neal doesn’t think that’s the case. While she was pulled in the team’s last two games against Greensboro College and High Point University with the Phoenix up by commanding margins, Neal confirmed with the Sports Information Directors she would still get credit for the shutout if she was pulled. In fact, she does.
“I asked the SID if I pulled her if she would still get the shutout,” Neal said. “I want that for her. I know she wasn’t concerned with it. It’s a nice byproduct, but I don’t think she thinks of it too much.”
The same can’t be said for the players.
“She better get it this year,” Krauss said. “I’m thinking about it all the time now.”