Women’s soccer team goalkeeper Rachel Ames ’16 came to Yale looking forward to a year of solid practicing and training at the collegiate level. Instead, she has started in eight games, made 12 appearances and made 46 saves.

“It’s extremely rare [to have a freshman start],” head coach Rudy Meredith said. “She stepped up.”

While playing soccer for her club in Alabama, Ames was looking at playing for a small school in her home state. But when Yale assistant coach Todd Plourde sent Ames a letter after seeing her play at a tournament, Ames began to reconsider. On her first unofficial visit, she was sold on Yale. Her plan was to take her first season as an adjusting experience, as she wanted to learn from more seasoned starter Adele Jackson-Gibson ’13. But an early and unexpected accident changed the path for the Bulldogs.

After just three games in net, Jackson-Gibson suffered a season-ending injury. With only young talent at his disposal, Meredith needed to give his goalkeepers some experience. Ames and Elise Wilcox ’15 began splitting time, each playing half a game. Both were working incredibly hard in practice and both had gained some experience during the season, Ames said.

Then, on a Friday night, Ames stepped up.

In overtime against Iona, a hard shot was fired from outside the box. As the Bulldogs watched the ball curve towards the net, appearing as if it would sail way over Ames’ head, they thought it was over. But Ames leapt up and knocked the ball over the net, keeping the Elis in a game they went on to win.

“She completely just blew everyone away — our fans, their fans and our goalkeeper coach who had been working with her,” captain and midfielder Jenny Butwin ’13 said. “It was a good moment for us, especially our defenders.”

Meredith said making a big-time save in a big game indicates that a goalkeeper has taken the step to the next level.

A few games later, Ames was put in net to start against Princeton, and she has worked to make it her home since. Her competitive edge is what keeps her growing and improving, Meredith said.

“We’ve been working on details like being one step closer to the ball and letting my defenders know where their marks are,” Ames said. “We’ve also been working on being a little more aggressive.”

Butwin said aggression and competitiveness are key to a goalkeeper’s success. When recruits were sending emails asking teammates questions about classes and social life at Yale, Ames’ first question to Butwin was whether she would be given the opportunity to earn her spot.

But part of what makes Ames unique is her ability to balance her fierce edge with her kinder side.

“She always says, ‘Yes, sir’ which you don’t really hear anymore,” Meredith said.

Since starting in net, Ames earned Ivy League Rookie of The Week honors for the week of Oct. 15 after scoring her first collegiate shutout in a game against Cornell. Focused on the game, she did not realize her accomplishment until her coach congratulated her.

“All I was thinking is I have to keep this shutout right here,” Ames said. “It was a great feeling.”

Ames said she is looking forward to the last two games of her freshman season against Brown on Thursday and Sunday night.

The Thursday night game will be broadcast live on the Fox Soccer Channel at 7 p.m.