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Freeman rises to the challenge for Caledonia soccer

 

Adam Minichino

 

It's difficult to remain in one spot when you're trembling. 

 

Sarah Freeman tried to put the nerves out of her mind. 

 

It didn't help that she knew the Caledonia High School girls soccer team had never defeated Pontotoc High. To magnify the moment, Freeman was all alone on her goal line, waiting and watching for a sign that would give her an edge. 

 

For a goalkeeper, one save in a round of five penalty kicks often is reason to rejoice. Last week, Freeman had three times the reason to celebrate, stopping three penalty kicks and a season-high 14 shots Tuesday to help Caledonia beat Pontotoc 2-1 in a shootout. She followed that performance by making 11 saves Friday in a 2-0 loss to Amory and three saves in a 5-1 victory against West Point on Saturday. 

 

For her efforts, Freeman is The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week. 

 

Freeman, who also was a standout on the Caledonia High volleyball team's best season in school history, has played a key role in the girls soccer team's 9-6 (1-1 district) record. Caledonia will play host to New Hope at 5 p.m. today in a non-district match. 

 

Freeman said the shootout against Pontotoc was her first experience in penalty kicks since a match against Cleveland in her sophomore season. She said Caledonia won the game but she didn't remember stopping three penalty kicks to do it. 

 

Against Pontotoc, Freeman first had to overcome the anxiety she felt prior to the penalty kicks. Instead of getting caught up in the moment, Freeman remained poised and watched. 

 

"When they walk up there, I look and see what they're looking at or what they're paying attention and determine how far away from the ball they are and how many steps they take before the kick," Freeman said. "I watch their hips because most of the time that normally directs where the ball is going to go. It is kind of a little cheat." 

 

Given goalkeepers can't move until the player strikes the ball, any edge is needed. Freeman's effort showed just how attentive she can be, as she stopped one shot up the middle and two more to the right side to help the Lady Confederates to their historic victory. 

 

Caledonia coach Jason Forrester said he didn't want to add to Freeman's nerves before the penalty kicks, so he told her to keep it simple and to block every shot. He wasn't surprised Freeman nearly did just that. 

 

"She has a knack for reading people," Forrester said. "Nine times out of 10 she is going to guess the right side, and seven out of 10 she is going to stop it." 

 

Freeman was a backup to Shaina Cruse, who went on to play at Itawamba Community College, until she took over as the starter last season. She said she always has been a vocal presence and that she has become more assertive coming off her line. Forrester said Freeman, a senior, has been a solid leader, or "coach on the field," the past two seasons. He said she provides constant communication and an ability to see the field that keeps the Lady Confederates organized. 

 

"Whatever she does she is going to give you the best effort," Forrester said. "She comes in beforehand and she will watch matches (Major League Soccer or English Premier League) on television and watch the way the goalkeepers play. It is kind of cliché, but she really is a student of the game. She tries to watch and learn what somebody else does and to incorporate it into her game if she is able to do so." 

 

Freeman's ability to read opponents taking penalty kicks is a perfect example. She admitted to being "beyond nervous" before the shootout. She said she tried to keep her emotions under control by bouncing on the tips of her toes before each shot. She said she gained confidence after the first stop and settled down as the teams went deeper and deeper into the shootout. 

 

After she made the third save to secure the victory, Forrester said Freeman jumped the highest he has ever seen her jump and then watched her sprint to celebrate with her teammates. 

 

"It was very exciting being this is my senior year," Freeman said. "It was such a good feeling to have our team beat Pontotoc. We have such a great team this year. 

 

"(Stopping the three penalty kicks) was the best feeling in the world. I still get chills thinking about it. It is the best feeling in the world. It is like being a kid on Christmas morning."  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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