September 30, 2011

Let's Give Goalkeeper A Try

Natalie Galovska, the lone senior on the 2011 Butler women's soccer team, came to BU to help the Bulldogs reach their goals. To do that, she had to go back to playing a position she hadn't played since she was 12 years old.

'A Blessed Opportunity'

Galovska, a native of Macomb, Mich., has overcome more knee surgeries than most NFL football players. She spent her first two years of high school on crutches (she said she became so skilled she could do tricks and spins on crutches) and didn't play prep soccer until her junior year. At the age of 14, she heard a 'snap' in her leg during a match and was told by surgeons the bones in her leg had developed a cavity and become soft. Literally, the bottom of her femur had chipped off. At that point, before her high school career had even begun, she was unsure if she'd be able to play soccer.

Once she got on the field for Eisenhower High School, she excelled as a midfielder and never had to play goalkeeper. It was then a Butler soccer connection put her on the radar of the Bulldog coaching staff. Jeremy Harkins, a 1999 Butler grad and men's soccer standout, was Galovska's club coach in Michigan for eight years and the two still talk to this day. Harkins was an all-conference player at BU and helped the Bulldogs to a national ranking and Sweet 16 appearance in 1998.

When one of Harkins' club players caught the eye of head coach Tari St. John, the Butler coach came to see the girl play. It was then she spotted Galovska. After some communication and a campus visit at the end of her junior year, Galovska knew she wanted to be a Bulldog.

"I fell in love with the campus," Galovska said. "First off, schooling is always my big thing. I didn't really think I'd play soccer in college, so I focused more on the school. But what Tari had to offer as a coach and as a person, it sealed the deal. She had a determination to change things around. She was on a mission that she was going to do it. She had me sold."  

'I Was Certain I Would Never Play Again'

After playing sparingly as a freshman in 2008, Galovska broke into the starting lineup as a midfielder in 2009. She started 14 matches and ranked fifth on the team in minutes played. It was her penchant for winning 50/50 balls and igniting offensive attacks which made her an asset, one that seemingly was going to be around for two more seasons.

"Natalie won everything in the air as a midfielder," Butler head coach Tari St. John said. "Watching her play, you would think she was six-feet tall with the amount of balls she won in the midfield. But at 5-4, it was her sheer determination and willingness to take a physical risk that set her apart. She was also very creative with the ball at her feet. She has a vision for the game and a soccer intelligence that is beyond most players."

With a large recruiting class and what was going to be a young 2010 squad, the Bulldogs were going to look to the then-junior Galovska for leadership and energy at midfield. Galovska came into her third year leaner and 15 pounds lighter, feeling that playing the 2010 year in better shape would help her battle some nagging injuries that she played through in 2009. 

One day in preseason camp in August 2010, Galovska pulled her quad while working out in practice. The injury put her out for four weeks. It was then St. John came to Galovska with the idea of redshirting the season and keeping the year of eligibility. After thinking about it, Galovska decided to battle through the injuries and try to play the 2010 season, passing on the redshirt. She went out before a match in late September with the intention of playing, but during warm-ups she became injured again and literally went down while trying to take a shot.

"I thought if I shouldn't try to play soccer anymore," Galovska said. "I was almost certain I was never going to play again. I thought it was my time to realize maybe I'm not a soccer player anymore."

Galovska did not play during 2010 and at the end of the semester she was told she had osteoarthritis in her knees and bone damage in her leg. At the end of the semester, she went in to St. John's office for a meeting, unsure if she would continue to play college soccer. She had accepted that maybe she wasn't able to be the player she once was. 

Why Not Stay On And Play Goalkeeper?

In that meeting in late 2010, St. John half-jokingly threw out the idea that maybe Galovska's place at Butler was not on the field, but in the net. The team had just one keeper on the roster, and St. John knew that Galovska had at one point in her life played the position. But, the coach saw the bigger picture for her young student-athlete.

"Overall, she told me to do what I thought was best. She was awesome and so patient with injured players. She said my health and my future were much bigger than these two seasons," Galovska said. "Being able to enjoy life after soccer is what really matters."

TSJ on the idea of her playing GK," St. John said. 

After meeting face-to-face, Galovska took St. John up on the offer to try playing goalkeeper. "It was then I said, 'Can we give goalie a shot?' She kind of looked at me funny. But I told her, 'I'm pretty good. I was good when I was younger.'

"There's more regret in not trying something than in trying and failing."

Galovska's versatility as a soccer athlete has helped the team combat an area that has seen plenty of turnover. The Bulldogs have had a different primary goalkeeper every year since 2007, with graduations and injuries causing a revolving door. That's why when Galovska sat down with St. John at a men's soccer match late in the fall 2010 semester, making the position switch seemed to be a win-win situation.

A true soccer player at heart, Galovska personally prefers to play in the field. "You're a little more in control," she said. "You're the playmaker. You have license to kill if you're a midfielder."

In fact, during her first outing as a goalkeeper, in the spring of 2011 in an exhibition vs. Purdue, Galovska was in goal and for a moment thought she was still playing in the field. It was, according to Galovska, a "big eye-opener."

"I stepped out on the field feeling confident, but I remember being scared," Galovska said. "I hadn't played goalie since I was 12 and now I'm in goal in a Division I match, playing against Purdue."

Galovska made a couple nice saves and soon got comfortable. "I can do this," she thought.

Later, on a free kick just outside the 18-yard box, Galovska went back to her midfielder mentality of possessing the ball. She tried to send a ball across the field to an open Bulldog player, when a Purdue player picked off the pass and walked the ball easily into an empty goal. 

"I was at the corner of the box, playing like a defender," Galovska said. "I forgot I was wearing gloves, a different jersey and different socks. I thought Tari was going to be mad. I looked over to her, but she didn't say anything. I was glad she didn't say anything. I definitely needed a lot of work. I'm sure Elise Edwards, our goalie coach, rolled her eyes at me a couple times," Galovska said with a laugh.

"The thing about Natalie is that she had the natural ability, having played goalkeeper when she was younger," Edwards said. "At first, she lacked confidence. But that led to here wanting to train as much as possible, which is great. She reads the game really well and she has stepped up this year."

Now in the 2011 season, Galovska has settled into the position and has played well. The team's lone senior, she has four wins and two shutouts to her record despite missing some time to injury. "I feel at home back there. I know I have the capacity to do it," she said.

To Recruits: So Can You Play Goalkeeper?

It has become a bit of a joke among the girls on Butler's team, switching players from the field to goalkeeper.

"We've jokingly asked some girls on their visits, 'So can you play goalkeeper? Because that's what we do at Butler'," Galovska said. "Everyone has had fun with it."

There's no question moving a player from the field to goalkeeper is an unorthodox move. But with more size and talent on the current Butler teams, perhaps there are other Bulldogs who could make the switch?

"Maybe Anna (Ventimiglia) because she's so quick and knows the game, but she's short like me," Galovska said. "Maybe Jackie Hafele because she'd be tall enough and she's fast." 

With all of that talent on the current and future Bulldog teams, Galovska gave the program her full endorsement:

"The program from where it was when I was a freshman to where it is now, and then to where it's going to be, it is night and day. It's going to be a very bright future."

-- by assistant sports information director Josh Rattray '06