Bekah Becker may be shorter than some of the other girls on the Boiling Springs girls soccer squad, but don’t let that stature fool you.
She’s feisty, vocal when she needs to be, and her heart may be her biggest asset. The sophomore goalie has used all of those attributes since standout senior goalie Asia Whittenberger, a Saint Joseph’s commit, went down with an ACL tear this spring, forcing her to play sideline soccer mom for her final season with the team.
“When I found out I literally started crying and then I immediately called Bekah and I was like, ‘It’s your turn now. It’s your time to shine,’” Whittenberger said of the moment her injury was confirmed.
Becker was first informed of Whittenberger’s injury via head coach Steve Brookens. And when Becker got that call from Whittenberger, she was still a little shaken.
“I was like, I really want to play varsity, but this is such an awful situation to do it in,” Becker said. “I just tried to make the best of it and carry on. I changed my mentality.”
The blow was big to the squad, especially for Brookens, who lost both his keeper and center back Julia Fulton to injury in the offseason.
This was a team that, after the 2016 season, had District 3 championship aspirations and believed it could make a run in the PIAA championships. Whittenberger and Fulton were critical to that plan.
But before the season’s first game, those hopes were already in jeopardy.
It turned out those concerns were premature.
Becker, all 5-foot-4 of her, stepped in admirably for the 6-foot-2 Whittenberger. Despite having to replace a NCAA Division I recruit, the Bubblers warmed up to their new netminder rather quickly.
“In the beginning it was a little different not having Asia’s big, tall stature back there,” junior forward and 200-point scorer Maddie Hughes said. “I think throughout preseason and stuff I really saw how much Bekah had improved from last year. We weren’t really losing anything with Asia being out, even though Asia is a very good keeper as well, but Bekah really stepped up and put in a lot of hard work over the summer.”
For good reason. The Bubblers (17-5) have allowed just 25 goals thanks to Becker’s 120 saves en route to a District 3 Class 2A title.
Brookens almost didn’t believe the news when he first heard it.
With how much Whittenberger jokes, Brookens didn’t buy the severity of her ACL injury when she first told him her career was over.
“The initial thing was concern — I was concerned about her and then concerned about the team,” Brookens started to say before Whittenberger sauntered over, getting close to the recorder during Thursday’s practice at Bud Ecker Field ahead of Saturday’s PIAA Class 2A quarterfinal meeting with Northwestern Lehigh.
“He didn’t believe me the first time,” she said before walking briskly back to her position on the sidelines on a cold, overcast afternoon, earning a laugh from her coach before yelling over again. “The exact quote was, ‘What?! What do you mean you messed up your knee?!’”
All jokes aside, when Brookens found out the injury was in fact real, the apologies ensued.
“When I found out it was true, I apologized to her for saying I didn’t believe her. I thought [she was] just yanking my chain,” Brookens said with another laugh. “With her going to college and missing out on the season as a three-year starter is just tough.”
Whittenberger has soldiered on quite well and embraced her role on the sidelines. A regular contributor to The Sentinel’s “In My Words” feature, she’s had fun learning how to watch and keep stats, among other things. But there have been moments where her competitive nature has gotten to her.
In the district final last Saturday, which the Bubblers won via 3-0 shutout of Schuylkill Valley at Hersheypark Stadium, Brookens said he could see Whittenberger was hurting that she wasn’t able to contribute on the field when she touched the trophy.
But she’s also served as an extension of the coaching staff, working with Becker this season.
Becker put in outside training to help her prepare for the season, and she has full support from the self-proclaimed team soccer mom. Whittenberger helps Becker one-on-one at times and shows up at all the practices to help out in any way she can.
“It gives Bekah a good vibe because Asia pays attention and points out the little things,” Brookens said. “I think it’s really raised her confidence level to really have someone looking over her shoulder and telling her when she’s doing a good job. I think that’s really helped Bekah’s confidence and I think as the year has gone on Bekah’s just really gotten better.”
The extra help has also allowed Becker to really let her competitive spirit show.
If the team has a drill at the end of practice where you have to get two goals in a row on Becker, the Bubblers strikers will most likely end up frustrated. Becker sees it as a challenge and doesn’t like to let anything get past her.
“Bekah really asserts herself during drills; she takes everything to the next level as far as being competitive,” Brookens said with a chuckle.
Her own goalie
If the size disparity doesn’t give it away, Becker is a very different keeper from her predecessor.
Becker is more athletic than Whittenberger, something both Whittenberger and Brookens commend her for.
“She’s quicker and she’s more athletic, but I have height to stop certain shots,” Whittenberger said. “I have more problems getting to the ground whereas she doesn’t have much of a problem. I think I would trade being so heavy because of my tallness because I can’t run. I’m not good at running.”
“I’m quicker than [she is]. My strength is mopping stuff up in the box, while her strength is high shots,” Becker said.
The height difference comes up a lot for the two, but their instincts are to ignore it or poke fun of it themselves.
“I’ve been tall all my life, so I don’t really know what it’s like to be short. I was always just the tallest person in the grade,” Whittenberger said, making the smaller goalie laugh beside her. “And I was actually thinking about it the other day, like, ‘Wow, someone’s actually going to be taking over my place as the tallest girl in the school.’ I was thinking about that in the shower.”
Goalie isn’t all quick-twitch reactions, though. Whoever stands between the pipes also has to command the defense, directing players into position to create stops or force lower-quality shots on goal.
It’s another aspect of the position where the two Bubblers differ.
Even though Becker is more reserved and shorter than Whittenberger, she can still get her point across when it counts during games. She’s a little bit more vocal on the field, in a good way. Well, in a “not scary” way.
“Asia definitely was a little bit more vocal and a little bit more scary, I think, to some of the defenders, but Bekah definitely puts the defenders in their place so they don’t step out of line,” Hughes said. “She plays with a big heart, so her size really doesn’t matter.”
And it’s rubbed off on Boiling Springs.
The Bubblers have looked steadier this postseason, Brookens said. But they’re doing it with a goalie that hasn’t played on this stage before.
“Last year you could tell they were nervous and had the deer-in-the-headlights kind of look [during states], but this year they know what they have to do and they’re just going about doing it,” Brookens said.
But Becker hasn’t been fazed all season, and it’s tough to predict a scenario that rattles her any time soon.
“I think it’s always about coming out of the game with a win, and I think we’ve accomplished everything that we needed to accomplish,” Becker said. “For me, it’s easy. I just go out and I play the best that I can. I go out and stop every shot I can.”
Saturday’s contest is at Hamburg High School at 2 p.m. Boiling Springs faithful can rest assured knowing that the goaltender they have in net now has gotten them this far.