As the Mountaineer women’s soccer team march into the Sun Belt conference tournament as the number four seed next week in Alabama, they are led in goal by junior leader Sam Steyl who has been a key factor in her first year as a starter.
Steyl has started in all 16 games that she has played in, accumulating 1,449 minutes and being the rock of consistency for the women’s soccer program.
“She has made some big saves that we wouldn’t expect her to make,” head coach Sarah Strickland said. “They’re saves that you expect the goalkeeper to make and there are some that you are grateful that they come up with.”
The 2016 season has greater importance to Steyl than prior years as she was the backup her freshman and sophomore seasons at Appalachian. After the graduation of former starting goalie Megan Roberson, she was handed the keys to the starting goalkeeper’s job.
“I didn’t play for two years so pushing myself, getting better in practice along with supporting the team from then until now was very important,” Steyl said. “It’s hard coming from not starting to starting and learning to adjust to that and also following up the goalkeepers before you.”
There have been plenty of improvements that have occurred from her early days at App State, but for Steyl, the leadership and communication aspects of her game have made the biggest jumps.
“Sam has always been a great shot stopper but her communication as far as organizing the back line in a more commanding presence and even throughout the season she has improved on that as well,” Strickland said. “I think she has definitely developed into a leadership role that would be commanding from the net.”
Steyl said as a goalkeeper it is very important to be loud and have her teammates respond to her because she has a view of the entire field while the other players are running all over.
“From when I got here to now I have definitely had to get louder so that my team can respond to me, hear me and trust me,” Steyl said.
Averaging a .702 save percentage and having plenty of success in her first full season starting, no one seems to be surprised, including her high school coach Kim Montgomery.
“It does not surprise me in the least that Sam is a key role player for the Mountaineers women’s soccer program, she is an amazing goalkeeper and an even more amazing young lady,” Montgomery said. “She is driven and dedicated in every sense of the word and I know she will do whatever it takes to continue to improve and anchor her team in the goal.”
Despite shining for App State this season, Steyl’s love for the game dates all the way back to when she was four years old and finding her spot in goal shortly after that.
“I got into soccer because both of my older siblings played so I just got dragged along into everything,” Steyl said. “The first year that you have goalkeepers we didn’t have one on our team so our coach started rotating kids through and he put me in for a game and I loved it, so I stayed there since I was seven.”
Attending high school at Ardrey Kell in Charlotte, North Carolina, Steyl is not only a talented goalkeeper, but she also takes great pride in the classroom.
Her senior year in high school she decided to forego her last year of soccer to graduate early and get a head start to her college education.
“I remember the day she came into my office and told me she was graduating early and would not be playing high school soccer her senior year, I cried,” Montgomery said. “That is how focused and committed Sam is to her academics.”
Not only did she take the responsibility of being engaged in her academics in high school, but college as well being the leader in the classroom and community for the App State women’s soccer team.
“Sam is in charge of our Student Athlete Advisory Committee role,” Strickland said. “She has been that way [Taking responsibility] and that was something voted on by the team as far as a representative that embodies what SAAC stands for. As far as community involvement, as far as academic excellence and as far as being a great teammate it was Sam 100 percent.”
The difficulty of managing time between school and sports is a hectic challenge, but Strickland realizes the importance of having a player who works as hard as Steyl.
“To academically have her GPA and take the classes that she takes to prepare for medical school I just think she’s just an all-around incredible person,” Strickland said.
Alongside all her personal accomplishments, Steyl’s desire to be a great teammate and giving credit to the ones around her causes her to stand out.
“I’m so glad that I am on this team, I know that I wouldn’t be where I am at today without them and their support, every single one of them from the freshman all the way to the seniors,” Steyl said.
The conference tournament is approaching and Steyl loves the direction of the team and has high expectations for the postseason.
“I think our defense has figured it out,” Steyl said. “We have made a few changes and it’s really important to have the dynamic that our team has, so hopefully we can keep moving forward.”
Story By: Adam Hothersall, Sports Reporter