The Press Newspaper
Who knows how many other top-flight goalkeepers have the same story as Woodmore senior Leah Bench?
Bench had spent some time in goal as a travel soccer player in the sixth through eighth grade. She was a midfielder for the Wildcats all of her freshman year and into the early part of her sophomore year when Woodmore’s senior goalie suffered a season-ending concussion.
Then-Woodmore coach Malcolm Edge and one of his assistants approached Bench to see if she would become the Wildcats’ permanent keeper.
“I worked with her in practice and privately for a little while to prepare her,” said Edge, a native of Sheffield, England, who coached the Wildcats’ girls’ team in 2010 and ‘11. “Leah did have previous goal keeping experience, so it was a matter of fine-tuning her techniques. She did the rest.”
Bench said she was a little unsure about the switch from midfielder to permanent goalie.
“I was nervous at first,” she admitted. “But since (Edge) asked me to do it, I knew he had confidence in me and he saw something in me that I could do well in goal. My freshman year he came in and worked with the boys’ soccer goalie, and I did a little training with him. He helped out a little bit before he became our head coach.”
Edge knows a thing or two about what it takes to become a superior goalkeeper.
He was a goalie on the Sheffield United U18 Academy team while in high school before playing collegiately for Sheffield Polytechnic. Since moving to the U.S. in 1981 he has been a goalkeeper coach in Indiana, Ohio and California. He also owns his own coaching business, called GoalkeepersEdge, and he also is the Director of Goalkeepers at Pacesetter Soccer Club.
Bench said she finally got comfortable in goal about halfway through her sophomore year.
“I got more confident with my goalie skills,” she said, “like dives and coming out to the ball when I need to come out of the goal, and communicating with my teammates.”
Edge recalled Woodmore’s match against Genoa two years ago, in which Bench made a leaping save to preserve the Wildcats’ win over the Comets. He called it Bench’s “greatest standout moment.”
“We were up 2-1 at Genoa and we gave away a penalty kick in the very last seconds of the game,” Edge said. “We were seconds away from achieving one of the best results ever for Woodmore girls. Our players were in agony at the prospect of not winning that game, but Leah Bench had other ideas. There was no way Woodmore was going to lose that game.”
The Genoa player’s penalty kick angled hard and high to Bench’s right, at the top corner of the goal.
“I knew Leah was going to stop the penalty kick,” Edge said. “She made what I still consider to be the greatest save by a high school keeper I have ever seen. She took two steps to her right, exploded to her right off her driving leg, arched her body and palmed the kick out of the top corner. She is a very good keeper, very strong on the ball, very agile and positionally very sound.”
Bench, 17, reached a state milestone on Sept. 4 in the Wildcats’ 2-2 tie against Oak Harbor. She notched six saves, allowing her to surpass 350 saves for her career.
She had 41 saves this season heading into Woodmore’s (4-1-1) match against Eastwood on Thursday, putting her 30th on the state’s career saves list with 362. (The all-time leader is former Cardinal Stritch standout Rebecca Roggelin, who had 1,103 saves from 2001-04).
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” Bench said. “It’s good to know I had so many people help me to achieve this goal, to have Malcolm and the other previous coaches help me work on my goalie skills. It was a goal of mine at the beginning to break some records. My freshman year our soccer team became a varsity team and we had no (school) records whatsoever. Knowing my name is in that book is an accomplishment.”
Bench, a first-team All-Northern Buckeye Conference selection last year after helping the ‘Cats take second in the NBC, said several factors go into making a good goalie.
“You have to trust your teammates and they have to trust you,” said Bench, a team captain. “You can see the whole field and see what’s going on, and you have to be confident and be quick and precise with your decisions. You have to be in shape to be a goalie. You can’t just not run all the time. You have to be just as fit as everybody else on the field.”
Bench had seven saves in a 3-0 win over Genoa on Sept. 6. Her performance left first-year Woodmore coach Mark Perez with a deep appreciation of her skills.
“She’s a great leader and a really good athlete,” Perez said. “She’s got good instincts in the box and she always seems square to the ball. She’s one of the better keepers, and I’ve seen quite a few. She’s a good communicator and she knows how to get away from pressure and get it away from the other team. She probably just played the best game she’s played all year (against Genoa). She keeps playing that way and we’re gonna do real well.”