Senior goalkeeper Anna Tapen spent three years on the women’s soccer team before she started a game.
Following in the footsteps of a dominant goalkeeper and obtaining a slew of injuries, Tapen had years on the bench to prepare for her final season in front of the net, and they paid off when she beat two other goalkeepers out for the starting role.
Tapen has been solid in front of the net, allowing opponents to score an average of 1.28 goals against while maintaining a .81 save percentage, good for fourth in the Atlantic 10 conference.
While she spent most of her GW career in the shadow of 2017-graduate Miranda Horn, as a first-year starter she is already on pace to surpass Horn’s 89 total saves from last season. Tapen has tallied 64 saves through 12 games – 13 more than Horn at this time last season.
“Anna’s playing some of her best soccer right now,” head coach Michelle Demko said. “It’s really the commitment level that she brings to training to stretch herself to become better.”
Tapen said playing behind Horn – whose 31 career shutouts lead the program – has been an important component in her success this season.
“We learned from each other,” Tapen said. “Some things she was better at, I struggled with. So she could help me raise my level of play.”
Tapen first started getting minutes on the field during exhibition games in the spring. She said she was “nervous” during those games but they helped her get her feet wet and back into an on-the-field mentality for the fall.
“Starting the season, I was really just trying to take my time and not overthink it and just see what happens and it’s worked out,” Tapen said. “So I’m trying to not think about the games too much in advance and just play.”
Tapen’s rookie season was derailed by a right hip injury that required surgery and extensive rehabilitation. She logged nearly an hour of play in three games as the Colonials’ backup keeper in 2016, but a right thigh flareup – likely related to her previous injury, she said – forced her to take another season off.
“It’s helped me really understand my body and what I can and can’t do,” she said of her injuries. “You have to be disciplined, and that’s something that injuries really teach you how to do.”
Even though it was “hard” being on the sidelines, Tapen communicated to the field from the bench, offering advice to teammates and even running to get loose balls during games while she was on the bench, she said.
“You’re still just as much as part of a team,” Tapen said. “You just have to understand that you can have an impact whether you’re playing or not, and just really focus on what you can control in the situation.”
Demko said Tapen earned her starting position by providing consistency and communication in goal.
“We kept telling all the goalkeepers that it’s going to come down to who is consistently making saves and communicating with the backline,” Demko said. “Anna showed that she could do those things, so that’s how she separated herself from the others.”
Demko credits some of Tapen’s success to assistant coach Zak Davis, who trains the team’s goalkeepers. Davis has helped Tapen grow as a player and leader on the field because of the trust and “close-knit” relationship they have as player and coach, Demko said.
“She’s becoming more demanding, which I think the players also respect and I think that’s a good accountability piece for our program,” Demko said. “She is getting specific on her communication.”
As the goalkeeper, Tapen can see the whole field in front of her and the movements and formation changes of players. Redshirt junior Megan McCormick said Tapen’s knowledge of the game and vision as a keeper has made the backline stronger this season.
“I would trust 100 percent anything that Anna told me,” she said.
Tapen’s performance this season paired with the knowledge she picked up while on the bench has allowed for an easy turnover between goalkeepers, McCormick said.
“Sometimes when you look at programs that have major changes in the net, it messes with the team because it’s a whole different dynamic,” McCormick said. “But Anna did a lot of communicating from the sidelines and learning off the field when she wasn’t playing, so it’s been a really smooth transition.”
With six games left in the team’s schedule, Tapen said this season has been a learning experience that has taught her to be patient with herself.
“This is my first year playing, and sometimes I expect a little too much of myself,” Tapen said. “I need to remember that one mistake isn’t going to change everything, so I just need to keep up the same level of improvement.”
The Colonials hit the road to face Duquesne Thursday at 7 p.m.