‘The best thing ever’: Nicole Kwoczka is grateful for her chance to start in goal

The starting eleven for Maryland women's soccer huddles before their first game of the season against Georgia Southern on Aug. 22, 2019. (Richard Moglen/ The Diamondback)

Goalkeeper Nicole Kwoczka shifted in her stance as Ohio State forward Olivia Petit cut into the box, looking to put away Maryland women’s soccer late in its Thursday match.

Petit took a shot from just inside the box and aimed for the top left corner of the net, but the freshman shot-stopper quickly lunged and made the save, robbing the Buckeyes of a second goal.

Although the Terps weren’t able to capitalize on the save, falling to Ohio State 1-0, the stop announced the arrival of Kwoczka, making her college debut that night. Kwoczka followed that up with her first start during a dominant win over Illinois, conceding one goal and helping Maryland overcome starter Erin Seppi’s absence.

“I was very grateful to start,” Kwoczka said. “I was just really happy and wanted to take my shot and play as best as I can for my team and my coach.”

[Read more: When Maryland women’s soccer scores early, it’s been unstoppable]

Kwoczka wasn’t expected to see significant time this year, sitting behind two senior goalkeepers on the depth chart. But after Seppi became unavailable with an illness, it opened the window for Kwoczka to put on her gloves.

“All of our goalkeepers have such amazing talent,” midfielder Darby Moore said. “[It’s] really hard to choose who will be that starting goalkeeper. When that happens, it’s part of the game, one falls down another has to step.”

Against the Buckeyes, senior Andi Wenck was given the start in net, the second of her career following a Senior Day appearance Sept. 22. Wenck conceded the lone goal in the 30th minute of the match, and Kwoczka rotated in for the second half.

Kwoczka kept a clean sheet during her 45 minutes, recording three saves in the process. However, there were moments in which her inexperience nearly cost Maryland.

[Read more: Maryland women’s soccer wallops Illinois, 6-2, scoring most goals since joining Big Ten]

In the 48th minute, a cross came into the box, and Kwoczka hesitated to move forward to grab the ball. Still, she managed to get the ball out of harm’s way before an Ohio State attacker pounced.

Seppi remained sidelined on Sunday for the Terps’ match against the Fighting Illini. But this time, coach Ray Leone tapped Kwoczka for the start.

“Very intense, very focused and gutsy,” Leone said of the freshman. “She wanted to play the whole time. There was no hesitation when her number got called.”

Kwoczka received a fair share of offensive help on the way to Maryland’s 6-2 victory over Illinois, but she came up big with five saves and only one goal against her in her 80 minutes of play. Her lone concession came after midfielder Anissa Mose’s clearance attempt went awry, instead landing at forward Makena Silber’s feet, right in front of the net.

Leone has praised the depth of his roster at the goalkeeper position, saying that despite losing Seppi for the past few games, other players are ready to step in.

“They’ve trained like starters the whole time, they’re really the best at that,” Leone said. “I’d really like our whole team to take notice of that. You can’t get in the goal and just be casual. You have to bring it, and that’s how they’ve done it the whole time. So when their number gets called, they’re ready to go.”

Goalkeeper has long been a strong point for the Terps. Former Maryland keeper Rachel Egyed was a two-time All Big Ten third team player. Seppi has already been named Big Ten Co-Goalkeeper of the Week this season while putting up strong numbers in her first season as a starter.

Kwoczka said that a key to all of their success is the strong bond among them, both personally and competitively.

“Practice is almost like every other game, there is that sense of competition,” Kwoczka said. “You have to look at your spot as [if] someone is going to take it. We work off of each other. Having two senior goalkeepers really did prepare me in a way that I can go up. Having them as good role models helps me a lot.”

Seppi will be a game-time decision for the Terps’ away game against Nebraska on Friday, so Kwoczka may see more significant game time before the season is over. Regardless of whether she plays moving forward, she said she was overjoyed by the chance to make an impact for her team.

“It’s the best thing ever,” Kwoczka said with a smile. “It’s one thing you’ve been waiting for all your life, to play in college, so I’m just grateful to have my shot.”

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