FINDERS KEEPERS: BHS soccer programs land new goalies through volleyball, football transfers
BEMIDJI -- Josh Nyberg played soccer when he was young, but never in goal. And Jody Pemberton’s experience dates back less than a month.
But at Bemidji High School, when the football linebacker and volleyball right-side hitter lost out on their fall sports, both decided to try out goalkeeping on the pitch.
“Volleyball doesn’t have a season this year, so why not go out for soccer?” Pemberton said. “It’s really fun actually. All the girls are so nice and so helpful, and the coaches are super nice and helpful. The learning curve is there, but they’re helping me through it so well.”
“I’ve got a lot of kids on my hockey team who play soccer. They all told me to come out for goalie,” Nyberg added. “I made the team, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is fun.’ It’s a good environment. Everyone is really nice.”
Pemberton said her volleyball background has aided the transition into a brand new sport. And her new head coach has seen that pay off.
“She knew the skillset she had and how well that will apply,” girls soccer coach Logan Larsen said. “There are things she has that translate well to goalkeeper: The hand-eye coordination is great. She’s quickly getting better at holding onto the ball. She can judge distance well. And I think the little bit of game experience will help her.”
Nyberg, a forward in his youth soccer days, is the latest in a lineage of keepers who have drawn from their athleticism to have success in net.
“I think a lot of people have seen over the past few years that we’ve had some goalkeepers step in and be able to do that,” boys soccer coach Rick Toward said. “We’re happy and thrilled and reward kids for those types of ideas, having those types of dreams. And when the opportunities present themselves, we’re happy to let them try them out. I’m thrilled for Josh.”
Thrown into action
Pemberton earned the season-opening start for BHS, and she remembers what was going through her head the first time a ball came her way.
“It was kind of nerve-wracking, not going to lie,” she admitted. “I was like, ‘Don’t let this ball go through your hands, don’t let this ball go through your legs. You’ve got to save this ball. It’s the first one coming at you.’ As long as I save the first ball, we should be good.”
The junior made a comfortable save, looking like a natural in the process, and played in the first half of the Lumberjacks’ 2-1 win. Through two games, Pemberton has split time in net with sophomore keeper Kiera Nelson and has allowed one goal over 80 minutes.
“She’s made herself a soccer player,” Larsen said. “She came in, and she’s worked hard. She’s responded extremely well to coaching, which makes the process much faster.”
Pemberton did let one ball slip by on opening night, which came off a long-range free kick that she didn’t quite know how to play. But she’s using it as a learning opportunity.
“I just need to ask the coaches where to position right,” she said. “We haven’t really worked on that portion of it yet within my first two weeks. (I learned) to let it out of my mind, forget about it, and focus on the next play.”
‘A super great kid’
Perhaps more than anything he provides within the game, Toward values Nyberg’s presence within the program.
“Josh is a super great kid,” Toward said. “He’s the kind of kid on every team who is 110% behind every decision the coach makes, every decision his teammates make. At halftime, he’s the one shaking his head yes, totally agreeing, buying in to what’s asked of him. Every team loves to have guys like Josh on them.”
Like Pemberton, Nyberg has rotated playing time in goal this season. The senior has shared duties with junior keepers John McNallan and Westin Gourneau.
“With the junior goalies who are here, they’ve been helping me a lot with everything,” Nyberg said. “I’ve got a lot of friends here. Toward’s a great coach. He coaches us well. … It’s just a good environment.”
So far, Nyberg has logged 80 minutes over three games, making five saves and allowing two pinpoint strikes that Toward said he doesn’t fault him for. Regardless, Nyberg knows there’s room to grow throughout the rest of the season.
“Yeah, you’ve got butterflies in your stomach before they get the first shot off,” Nyberg said. “But as soon as you make the first save, the bugs kind of go away. Then you’re just focused mostly and it’s just a game.”