Washington redshirt junior Olivia Sekany lived a goalkeeper’s dream Friday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
In a penalty-kick shootout against Saint Louis, Sekany made two saves to give her team a chance to win in the fifth and final round.
Enter Sekany again, in an unfamiliar role of trying to make a goal rather than save one.
Sekany made a quick fake to the left, pulling the Saint Louis defender in that direction, then calmly sent the shot into the right corner of the net, prompting an instant celebration by her teammates.
Not that Sekany remembers much of it.
“I put my head down, and I just zoned everything out,” said Sekany, who became the first goalkeeper to win a game in the NCAA women’s soccer tournament with a penalty kick since Stanford’s Jane Campbell in 2014 in the national quarterfinals.
“I don’t remember any noise. I don’t remember anything except looking at the ball. I think I was too locked in to be nervous. It was kind of like an out-of-body experience, and I still don’t necessarily believe that it happened.”
But it certainly did, after neither team scored in regulation or overtimes. With the win, Washington (10-3-4) moved into the Sweet 16, where it faces national power North Carolina (16-1-0), the No. 2 overall seed, on Wednesday at noon PDT in Cary, North Carolina.
Washington is clearly the underdog, but scoring goals against the Huskies has proved a challenge, no matter the opponent.
The Huskies led the Pac-12 in fewest goals allowed, and Sekany has not allowed a goal in 579 minutes (the longest streak for a UW goalkeeper since 1991). She is allowing 0.59 goals per game, the fewest in school history.
Sekany is loving every minute, which was not the case during three seasons at California. She started 11 games as a redshirt freshman, but it was never the experience for which she had hoped.
In November last year, she was one of several women’s soccer players at California who went public with allegations of mistreatment and abuse from Bears soccer coach Neil McGuire, who remains the coach.
Sekany made allegations of weight-shaming and being forced to run until she got sick. Those allegations were part of an investigative story by KTVU TV in Oakland, California.
In December, KTVU reported that nearly two dozen more former and current California soccer players had corroborated the claims.
“Obviously, I had a very difficult time at Cal,” Sekany said. “It was not the college athletics experience that anyone deserved or should have. I knew pretty early on I wanted to go somewhere else.”
Sekany graduated from California in three years with a degree in legal studies, making her eligible to become a graduate transfer.
“My experience at the University of Washington has been a complete 180 (degree change),” said Sekany, who started school at UW last fall. “There are still things in motion (at Cal), and I am not as actively involved at this point because I am trying to continue on with my career.
“I am trying to move forward without forgetting. I don’t want to forget, because it made me a stronger person and a more resilient athlete. I also don’t want it to go away, because I don’t want other girls to have to experience what I experienced. I want to make sure I continue to speak out on it.”
Sekany said she is thrilled with her experience at UW.
“That is owed to the staff and the girls on this team,” she said. “They have made every second of this season so memorable and so much fun.”
Sekany emerged as the starting goalkeeper after a three-way battle with Nicole Smith and Caeley Goldstein. She passes credit to her teammates for her historically good season.
“I have never been on a team that is this good defensively,” she said, “The defenders in front of me make my job easy. They are stopping shots and breaking down counterattacks left and right. It starts up front with the forwards — we have a really strong team commitment to defending as a unit, and I think that is why we are so successful at it.”
UW coach Nicole Van Dyke said Sekany has “done a phenomenal job.”
“Liv has done an exceptional job of continually improving,” said Van Dyke, an assistant coach at Stanford in 2014 when goalkeeper Campbell’s penalty kick moved the Cardinal into the Final Four. “That desire has propelled her, and she has established herself as one of the top goalkeepers in the country.”
Sekany said she is “amped up” to play North Carolina, which has won 21 of the 38 NCAA women’s soccer tournaments. Its alumni include Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Shannon Higgins and several other greats.
If it comes down to penalty kicks, Sekany will be ready — to stop them, and to make one if needed.
A couple weeks ago, the team was practicing penalty kicks, and Sekany had a good one.
“An assistant coach asked if she would be comfortable taking a penalty kick,” she said. “I said, ‘If the team needs me to step up, I can step up,’ and that’s an answer they must have liked, because they put me in the order. I’ve been practicing them more lately, but not historically.”
Sekany said there is far more pressure making one than stopping one, but it all worked out Friday night.
“You really can’t draw it up better, as far as a goalkeeper,” she said.