The summer after her sophomore year of high school, goalkeeper Adele Jackson-Gibson ’13 attended a soccer camp hosted by Yale at Wesleyan University. While at the camp, she jumped to make a save and caught a ball over the crossbar. The play caught the attention of Rudy Meredith, head coach of the Yale women’s soccer team.
“I’ve never seen a keeper catch a ball over the crossbar like that,” Meredith said. “We were all like, ‘Oh, wow. This kid is athletic.’”
Today, Jackson-Gibson not only stands in front of the net as the women’s soccer team’s starting goalkeeper, but has helped the team record four shutouts this season, matching the team’s total from all of last season. Part of what has allowed her to excel as a keeper is that she possesses a level of athleticism and speed that is rarely seen in front of the net. In fact, Jackson-Gibson is the fastest player on the soccer team and also runs track for Yale as a sprinter and jumper, making her the squad’s only two-sport athlete.
This speed helps her as a keeper because she can come off her line quickly and secure balls that go over or through the defense, Meredith and captain Miyuki Hino ’12 said. They also said that the ability to close down plays faster than most netminders gives the Bulldogs a lot of defensive coverage in the box. And, as she showed at the soccer camp, Jackson-Gibson also has an impressive vertical leap that allows the five-foot-seven-inch keeper to catch high balls.
Years ago, though, Jackson-Gibson hoped to apply her speed to another position — striker. “I’ve always secretly wanted to be a forward because I really like sprinting,” she said.
But her club coach at the time thought she would make a good goalie because she was tall for her age, and decided to put her in goal. Though Jackson-Gibson spent some time as a field player during her club soccer days, she remained primarily a goalkeeper.
Still, there is more to being a successful keeper than pure athleticism. Due to the pressures that come with the position, they must also possess a high level of mental toughness, Meredith said. “Other players can make 25 to 30 mistakes in a game, and then the goalkeeper makes one mistake and then it costs you the game,” she said. “You’ve got to be able to be mentally strong enough to handle that and be able to bounce back, which she is.”
Though Jackson-Gibson’s athleticism sets her apart from most goalkeepers, it did not guarantee her the starting position when she first arrived at Yale. In fact, her first career appearance came not in goal, but on the field as a defender after the team was hit with a number of injuries.
But after serving as the back-up goalkeeper for the past two seasons, Jackson-Gibson finally got the opportunity to take over as the team’s starting goalkeeper this year — a role she has fully embraced.
“It’s something I wanted for two years,” Jackson-Gibson said. “It’s finally happening, and I don’t want to take it for granted at all. It’s been what I’ve been working towards for most of my life.”
So far, her efforts have paid off. Jackson-Gibson has started all nine games in goal for the Bulldogs this season, compiling a 0.73 goals against average while making 35 saves, which rank third and second among Ancient Eight goalkeepers respectively.
“She’s done an amazing job so far,” Hino said. “It’s not easy to come in and establish a strong working relationship with a back line, and she’s done a really great job of that so far. She worked so hard mentally and physically to be prepared for this, and I think she understands what it means to be a calming and composed force at the back.”
Having shut out Princeton last weekend in the team’s Ivy League opener, Jackson-Gibson hopes for a similar result when the Bulldogs host Harvard on Saturday.