Purcell SAVES the day

Tom Batters
Peoria Notre Dame senior goalkeeper Lauren Purcell is a top 10 student who will attend Clemson University next year.

On a frigid night in late March, spectators blew into their fists, clutched little styrofoam cups of coffee and bounced in place like penguins trying to stay warm.

There was not much happening on the soccer field. Peoria Notre Dame and Normal Community were tied, 0-0, with about 10 minutes left in the first half.

Then came one of those moments in which time seemed to stop, and all the freezing fans let out a collective gasp, followed by fervent cheers and applause.

A Normal Community forward broke loose at midfield, gained control of the ball at her feet, and sprinted straight at Notre Dame goalkeeper Lauren Purcell. The charging player blasted a shot that zipped toward the top corner of the net.

Purcell took a quick step, dove flat out about three feet in the air and saved the ball with her finger tips, so that it rolled harmlessly out of bounds.

The Irish won the game, 1-0.

Purcell, a senior who played on defense last year, was the hero in her first game as starting goalkeeper.

“Lauren was the player of the game,” said first-year coach Jason Whalen. “That was big, for her to come in and play like that after not playing in goal for a long time. She made some huge saves.”

Purcell was the back-up goalkeeper as a freshman and sophomore before moving to defense last year as a junior. After All-State goalkeeper Alexa Rooney graduated, Whalen called on Purcell to take over in the crease full time.

Purcell said the transition was difficult initially, but it got easier after a couple weeks of practice.

“It’s a little like riding a bike,” she said. “Once I got back into it, it all came back to me.”

Before the season, Purcell spent hours in practice, deflecting shots that coaches threw at her rapidly, like a machine, so that she had less than a second to save one before another one came at her.

“We needed to get her used to seeing shots,” Whalen said. “We needed to get her comfortable with balls coming at her, and get her used to reading a number of different types of shots and deflections.”

Whalen said Purcell was a “terrific defender,” so he did not want to lose her on the back line, but the team needed a goalkeeper.

“She’s a great athlete. We knew she could handle it,” he said. “She made the transition really well, and she’s played great all year.”

She said she enjoys playing goalkeeper, even though the pressure is much more intense.

“When you have the ball coming right at you, and you have to make the save, that can be a lot of pressure,” she said.

Purcell started playing soccer when she was three years old. Her older brothers, Tommy and Conner, played sports, so Lauren, the only daughter, joined them.

“I didn’t have many girls to play with when I was little,” she said, smiling. “I had to keep up with all the boys that were around. I played all kinds of sports.”

Purcell also played basketball at Peoria Notre Dame, along with her best friend and neighbor, Lexie Kramer.

When she is not playing sports, she said she enjoys spending time with her friends and family, and her two dogs — a black lab and a shepherd mix.

Purcell, a top 10 student, will attend Clemson University next year. She will major in animal sciences.

“Ever since I was about four years old, I wanted to be a veterinarian,” she said. “We have pictures of me with my stuffed animals and my little stethoscope.”

REGIONAL SCORES

• Camille San German scored twice as Notre Dame beat Woodruff, 7-0, in the first round of the Peoria Notre Dame Regional. Also scoring for Notre Dame were Alex Ivie, Tracy Metzinger, Casey O'Brien, Megan Maroon, and Madi Green. Ivie also had two assists. ND plays Richwoods at 7 p.m. Friday for the Regional title.

• Richwoods beat East Peoria, 6-0. Nicole Strube and Courtney Holtz each scored twice for the Knights.

• Dunlap beat Peoria Central, 11-0, in the first rund of the Galeburg Regional. Allison Sahm had four goals for Dunlap. Also scoring for Dunlap were Alyx Landmark (two goals), Taylor Anderson, Emily Grant, Ally Redington, Brooke Anderson, and Lindsey Beyer. Jordan Gunn had two assists for Dunlap, which will play for the Regional title Saturday.