By Mike Schuster
For Kristin Carden, soccer is much more than a game. It’s her entire identity. Hooting and hollering from the sidelines during the spring and summer practices earlier this year, onlookers might have assumed she was a coach, not the starting goalkeeper.
Carden was forced to sit out during much of summer conditioning this year after an ankle injury confined her to a walking boot. However, instead of hanging her head, she seized the opportunity to serve as a mentor and solidify her role as the team’s go-to leader on the bench. Her vocal presence is hard to overlook, and her work ethic has drawn high praise from the VCU coaching staff. Carden’s on-field contributions are critical, but they’re only one piece of the puzzle. She also sees it as her responsibility to encourage her teammates and keep them focused.
“I think one of her best qualities is just having a presence,” said Women’s Soccer Co-Head Coach Tiffany Sahaydak. “Not only her size and her unique ability, but she cares a lot about this program, and her teammates around her really know that and embrace her for that. The younger ones look at her, being a fifth-year senior, and with how competitive she is, and her strong vocal presence, as someone they can look to for advice and inspiration both on and off the field,”
Carden began her career at Virginia Tech, where she racked up the second-most wins in school history during the 2008 and 2009 campaigns. She transferred to VCU in 2011 and has been nothing short of spectacular during her tenure in Richmond.
As a junior in 2011, Carden defended the cage as if her life depended on it. She started all 21 matches and allowed just 15 goals. She made 72 saves, and her minuscule 0.68 goals against average led the Colonial Athletic Association. Carden also posted nine shutouts on the way to First Team All-CAA honors. Her play in goal was one of the driving forces behind VCU’s run to the CAA Tournament Championship Match last season.
Nonetheless, Carden knew that if she wanted to take the next step, she would have lead by example and set the standard for her less experienced teammates.
“Being a leader through communication and having a voice back there is really important as a goaltender. I want to be a helpful player both on and off the field, and I want to be that voice they can count on,” Carden said. “In order to help improve my own individual game and to progress my team, I want to be able to help them organize and facilitate them where they need to be when they’re not sure. That way, I can best serve the team chemistry, which I think is most important for our success, as well as my responsibility for taking a leadership role for the younger players.”
Carden didn’t return to the field this season until late August, but the hiatus didn’t seem to bother her on the field. Carden has lost just once since she returned to the pitch and has recorded shutouts in four of the last five matches. In less than two seasons in a VCU uniform, she’s totaled 11 shutouts. But that doesn’t mean she’s satisfied.
“I need to continue to improve on my play every day in practice and in games,” she said. “I just want to get better on every save and be able to make those big saves for this team when it counts. It’s important that I put my best foot forward to make myself better and make those around me better whenever and however I can do that.”
With Carden fortifying the cage to the tune of a 0.71 goals against average, VCU is 9-4-3 this season, including a 4-2-0 mark in Atlantic 10 Conference play. The Rams are tied for second place in the A-10 with 12 points. Carden the VCU will get their next A-10 test Oct. 19 against cross-town rival Richmond at Sports Backers Stadium.