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November 8, 2013

Ms. Clutch

By: Marc Mullen

Katie Yensen did not come to Tech with the reputation of being a goal scorer, but the junior has shown a knack for making her goals count – she has seven game winners in her career

Midfielder Katie Yensen’s play this season is one of many
reasons why the Tech women’s soccer team is having the
program’s best season in school history.

The month of November will ultimately determine how successful the 2013 women’s soccer season is gauged, with results in the ACC and NCAA Championships being key components. Certainly, though, by anyone’s measure the regular season was the best ever, bar none.

The Hokies posted a 14-3-2 record, which included a 9-3-1 mark in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Their only losses were to then-No. 1 North Carolina (2-1), No. 3 Florida State (2-1) and No. 1 Virginia (2-0) – and the Hokies themselves reached a program-best No. 4 national ranking. Tech was not shut out of a regular-season game until that Cavaliers’ loss at the end of the regular season. It marked the first time Tech had been shut out since Oct. 21, 2012 – a school-record span of 20 straight games.

Taking into consideration that, at the start of the year, head coach Chugger Adair was without two of his best offensive weapons, that last note seems almost implausible. Kelly Conheeney missed the entire season with an injury, and Shannon Mayrose missed some time early with an injury. Conheeney (26 career goals) and Mayrose (16) were Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in active career goals scored and third and 12th all-time, respectively, in career goals at Tech.

Senior Jazmine Reeves and sophomore Ashley Meier, both pretty good goal scorers in their own right, were solid all year, helping fill the void. But it would be the emergence of freshman Murielle Tiernan and the timely goal scoring of junior Katie Yensen that proved to be the winning ingredients.

“I know for me personally, even in my club days, I have never been a huge goal scorer,” Yensen said. “I’ve never been a flashy player. I would just consider myself very consistent. I’m very good on the ball, very technical, but that doesn’t always get you noticed [during the recruiting process]. So it was hard, and I think that’s why a lot of schools didn’t see that [her goal-scoring potential], but some schools did.

“And, luckily, Chugger saw that. He saw the potential that I was a good player. He was looking for those aspects that I had. He was looking for a good possession player, which is what he saw in me. Coaches at this level, they have so much soccer knowledge. They are so soccer savvy, and they can see that, even though you aren’t scoring five goals every game, you are still a great player.”

She might not score five goals per game, but Yensen’s offensive contributions in 2013 – and in her time in Blacksburg – have solidified her status as a big-time performer.

The numbers are quite impressive. Entering the ACC Championships on Nov. 3, she had scored 10 goals in her career – of which seven were game winners. No other player with seven or more career goals in the school’s history can claim a better percentage. She also has assisted on two game winners.

More impressively, the Hokies are a staggering 16-0 when Yensen tallies a point during a contest. That included eight victories during the 2013 regular season, a span in which she scored four game-winning goals.

Also, here are Tech’s records for some current players when they tally a point, again, heading into the ACC Championships – Conheeney (29-4), Reeves (26-4-1), Mayrose (18-2) and Meier (10-5-1). Even senior Ashley Manning, who has 11 goals and five assists in her career, has one blemish on her record at 12-1.

So sure, scoring goals in soccer leads to wins, but Yensen admittedly isn’t a goal scorer. Yet she possesses the knack to come through in the clutch.

The Hokies are always successful when Katie Yensen gets
involved offensively. They are 16-0 in her three years at
Tech when she scores a point in a match.

Of all the game-winning goals Yensen has scored – the list includes one in a much-needed win at No. 7 Wake Forest last season, a penalty kick goal in a 1-0 win at Boston College and her first two-goal game in a victory at Pittsburgh – none compared to the actual game-winning goal scored 44 seconds into the first overtime against Clemson on Oct. 3.

“That was my first true game winner that I had ever scored,” Yensen said. “In overtime, it was very exhilarating. I can’t even put together words to describe the feeling. It was incredible. Just the energy in the stadium, the energy of my teammates, all rushing the field at the end – that made me incredibly happy. I just can’t even … there are no words to describe it.”

The importance of that goal now may be lost, but the Hokies had just come off a tie at Duke and were sitting at 4-1-1 in ACC play. The Clemson game was the last action they would see before a 10-day layoff that would end with a visit from top-10 Notre Dame (then-No. 9).

A tie – or worse, a loss – was not what the team wanted to have heading into that time off.

“Throughout that whole couple of days leading up to the Clemson game, Chugger really emphasized us getting the win,” Yensen said. “Clemson was only three points behind us at the time and had always been a good team. They’d gotten some wins, some ties. They had been doing really well.

“So Chugger wanted to make sure we came out fighting and definitely stressed that we needed a win. When we did go into overtime, everybody on the field just had the attitude that we are going to get three points here. We’re not going to come away with one, and we’re definitely not going to lose.”

Yensen has come a long way since starting out playing soccer at the age of 4. It’s understandable since she said she is always doing something and never likes to take breaks, not even from soccer. Over the past two summers, she’s played in the W-League for both the DC United and the Washington Spirit, teams that are about a 30-minute commute from her home in Falls Church, Va.

When she was in high school, she competed in a handful of triathlons and wants to continue that when she’s done with her soccer career. Despite many of the images she has pinned in the “bucket list!!” section of her Pinterest account, she claimed, “I’m not a daredevil. I would just say I love adventure.”

Coming in as a freshman at Tech, though, she had more modest goals.

“Honestly, I came in as a freshman and my goal was to travel [with the team]. That’s just really what I wanted to do,” she said. “If you had told me before I came here that I was going to start my first 13 games, I would have said, ‘You’re crazy.’ So I was pretty shocked that that happened.

“I was lucky enough to come in and earn a spot for a little bit. I came in, I was very fit and I was very technical. I just wasn’t really that strong. I have always been kind of a smaller player, and throughout the years at Tech, I’ve worked a lot on that. I think it’s gotten a lot better.

Katie Yensen (left) has another season left to play for the
Hokies, and then after that, she may go to medical school
and become a doctor.

“But I think that’s one thing that Chugger was looking for a little bit more from me, that tenacity, and the strength on the ball, and I think that’s part of it. Then when we got into the ACC schedule, it got a little harder for me. The ACC is very fast and very physical. So I definitely got a lot more playing time than I ever expected, and that was a very pleasant surprise.”

Yensen still has one more Tech soccer season remaining, but has already contemplated her next step. As she said, “I think, just as an athlete, it’s just so hard to give up the sport just cold turkey after the season. I definitely see myself playing for as long as I can somewhere. I think there might be a chance for me to play overseas, and I want to pursue that if I can.”

But once that’s over, she is thinking about medical school and her ideal job would be as a doctor. She thinks maybe an orthopaedic doctor, but, “I haven’t really explored a lot of the other options yet. I feel like there are so many different fields you can go into in health care, and the option is really open.”

Exploring her options, feeding her adventurous side and continuing her non-stop lifestyle, Yensen, who’s a biology major with a minor in Spanish, will be partaking in a 10-day trip to Costa Rica in January. Through the International Service Learning organization, which was recommended by Annie Hesp, her Spanish teacher, Yensen will use those attributes that she has been learning in the classroom to assimilate into the culture and work in clinics.

“I’m actually going to go to Costa Rica to work in clinics down there because, for one, it’s a good opportunity to use my Spanish while interacting with people in their native villages,” she said. “And two, I’m also going to provide health care to people, which is something that I ultimately want to do.

“In the future, I want to travel, maybe with the military or with Doctors Without Borders, and provide health care to people in other countries. So this is just kind of a really cool opportunity to do that. This trip is more with a focus on medicine, and I’ve heard so many amazing things about that program.

“I won’t get the opportunity to study abroad, and my sister [Alex], she studied abroad in Italy for a semester, so I was kind of jealous of that. So my parents [Dave and Tracey] thought this would be a cool opportunity for me to combine pretty much everything that I love – well, except for soccer.”

Right now, though, she and the rest of her Tech teammates are concentrating on some shorter travel plans. After securing their sixth straight NCAA tournament berth, the Hokies are hoping to get into some uncharted waters, as they have never advanced past the Sweet 16 in two appearances.

With Yensen along for the journey and with her knack for helping her team succeed, particularly late in matches, she could get them there.