6:44 PM EDT, October 5, 2013
STORRS — Sarah Mansfield remembered trying out for a regional field hockey team in England when she was younger, maybe 14 or so. She hadn't played in goal for that long and she wasn't really sure how to put her goalie pads on.
"They were upside down," she said, laughing.
It didn't matter. Once she figured out how to put on the pads, Mansfield, who grew up playing soccer, picked up everything else quickly. She is a natural athlete, one of the best that UConn coach Nancy Stevens says she has coached in her 35 years.
Mansfield, 22, a senior goalkeeper from Cornwall, England, broke the career record for wins at UConn with a 4-0 victory over Lafayette on Sept. 15. The former record holder was Danielle Vile, one of UConn's best goalkeepers, who went 58-12 with two trips to the NCAA Final Four between 1996 and '99. Mansfield is now 64-12 in her four-year career. She is a two-time All-American, is sixth in the country in save percentage (81.1 perecent) and third in the country in goals against average (0.97). And her team is 10-0, third-ranked in the country, after beating defending champion Princeton 1-0 last weekend and Providence 4-1 on Saturday.
"I'd definitely put her in the top 3-4 athletes I've coached," Stevens said. "Her power, speed, quickness, size, eye-hand coordination. She also has the knowledge, and she's a great communicator. She has three first-year starters in front of her [on defense]. She's managing that."
Not much fazes Mansfield. She had hip surgery last spring for a condition called femoroacetabular impingement (FAI) in which the ball of the hip joint does not rotate smoothly in the socket, a condition likely painful for a goalkeeper who spends a lot of time crouching in the goal cage.
Yet eight weeks after her surgery, Mansfield was able to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania with her family.
"I asked the physicians like 18 times, 'Are you SURE she is going to be OK?'" Stevens said. "They said yes. For her to be able to do that just a couple months after hip surgery was a tremendous accomplishment."
Mansfield went with her parents and two older brothers, Sam and Luke. Her parents had climbed the 19,341-foot peak before, but the whole family had never done something like this.
"We normally go on holidays to Hawaii or Australia or we go sit on a beach or something," Mansfield said, laughing.
"It was awesome. You could hardly breathe at the altitude. It was crazy. The day we went from base camp [around 14,500 feet] to the summit, we woke up at midnight. We had some porridge and around 12:30, we started walking. We got to the top at 6:30 in the morning and spent a half hour at the top, watching the sunrise, having a cup of tea. It was so nice."
Living in the U.S., Mansfield doesn't get to see her family all that much. Her parents have seen her play, but Sam and Luke have not. So the climb was special.
"It was a lovely bonding thing," she said. "Since that trip, we've all become 20 times closer. At one point, I had a spasm in my neck halfway up the mountain. Sam found it easy. Luke was hallucinating. I was dizzy, I couldn't stand. I was going to take my rucksack off and leave it on the mountain but Sam took it. With things like that, you know they've got your back."
Climbing Kilimanjaro is just the kind of thing that Stevens would expect her goalie to do.
"Not everyone would play goalkeeper," she said. "I think it takes a special person to sit in there and have people shoot balls at 80-90 mph at you. You are protected, but I couldn't do that."
"Sarah is that kind of person who has that 'bring it on' attitude. She's ready."
UConn has wins over three Top 10 teams. The Huskies play No. 9 Boston College on Sunday. In two of the past three years, they have lost in the NCAA quarterfinals to Maryland. As a sophomore, Mansfield made 19 saves in a 4-3 double-overtime loss to North Carolina in the NCAA semifinals. This is her last chance to get to a national championship game. Bring it on. She's ready.
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