Valparaiso's Ethan Lehnen is hardly a veteran between the pipes, but that didn't prevent the senior goalie from making crucial saves at last week's Class 2A Merrillville Regional.
Lehnen had three saves in a shootout win over Munster in the semifinals, and he followed up with two more shootout saves in a championship win over Lake Central.
Lehnen, an All-District selection this season, has been a part of 11 shutouts for the Class 2A No. 7-ranked Vikings, who meet Hamilton Southeastern in Saturday morning's semifinals of the Warsaw Semistate. He's made 58 saves and allowed just 11 goals in 20 games.
"He's a very natural athlete, and he picks things up pretty quickly," Valparaiso goalie coach Scott Bartlett said of Lehnen, who also plays varsity baseball. "He's an extremely intelligent player. Anyone who puts that amount of effort and studies the game as much as he did can absolutely get there. He really went above and beyond."
Lehnen needed to make up for lost time, since he stepped away from soccer after fourth grade. Two years ago, the Vikings lost a goalie on their roster due to a family move and coach Danny Jeftich asked if any players had anybody in mind to fill the void.
Brendan Sutherland, who played with Lehnen in elementary school, made a suggestion and the duo were reunited on the pitch.
Once he returned to the game, Lehnen knew he would have to beef up his practice regimen. At practices as a sophomore, he worked with the varsity goalies for two hours then spent two more hours working with his junior varsity teammates.
"I had to clean up my foot skills, because they were not there," said Lehnen, who also didn't spend all of his elementary school soccer time in goal. "I had to learn the soccer terminology, because I had to be able to communicate with my teammates.
"I had to re-learn how to do things, landing on my side instead of my stomach to avoid injuries on dives. I needed to do things the correct way."
This is Lehnen's first full season as a varsity starter, and all that training seemed to pay off -- especially last week.
Valpo's goalies constantly work on penalty kicks -- even Jeftich hones their skills with some of his booming attempts.
Other skills were also gleaned from the coaching staff.
"We constantly worked where someone was positioned (for a shot), and the certain way they would go with it," said Bartlett, an L.C. grad who played goalie at Purdue. "You look at his PKs, he just doesn't stop the shot, he catches the ball."
Last week's plays have just strengthened Lehnen's resolve to make the plays for his team.
"This wasn't just for myself; it was huge to be there for my team those two nights," Lehnen said. "It's been the most exciting part of this season."