OVC Player of the Year Beth Guccione ranks not only as best goalkeeper in Ohio Valley Conference but one of the tops in the entire nation.
Nov. 7, 2001
Going through a season and only allowing seven goals is a difficult feat. Going through an entire conference season and not allowing a single goal is even more impressive. This season, the Southeast Missouri State soccer defense has been one of the best in the entire nation. At the center of this great defense is Beth Guccione, a senior goalkeeper from Florrisant, Mo. who has named OVC Player of the Year at this season's awards banquet. Guccione has not only set every Southeast record this season but is in position to get her name in the NCAA all-time record book at the conclusion of this magnificent season.
"Gooch" came to Southeast Missouri State after a standout career at Lewis & Clark junior college where she was named NSCAA All-American both seasons. She also recorded 26 shutouts in her two seasons and had a 0.70 goals allowed average (GAA) in 1998. All of what would be signs of what was to come at the Division I level. Upon the completion of her two years at Lewis & Clark, Guccione made the decision to come to Cape Girardeau and help head coach Heather Nelson start the women's soccer program at Southeast.
"I really did not want to hear from any more college coaches," Guccione said. "I was sick of soccer and really was not sure what I wanted to do. But my family told me to at least listen to Coach Nelson when she called. So I talked with Coach on the phone and really liked her thoughts on the new program and her dedication to her players. And once I came to visit I knew this was the place I wanted to be. Plus, since I only had two years of eligibility remaining I wanted to go to a place I knew I could play right away."
And play right away Gooch did, as she was the starting goalkeeper for the Otahkians in 1999. And as is expected with a first-year program, the Southeast team struggled throughout the season and Gooch would be very busy in goal. In 12 games that first season Beth would make 100 saves and only allow 22 goals (1.75 GAA). The 100 saves worked out to 8.25 per game, which ranked her 11th in the nation for the season. She also recorded three shutouts in her four wins that first season.
After completing an outstanding first season, Guccione's first attempt at a senior season was derailed by injured. Off-season shoulder capsule surgery forced Gooch into a medical redshirt for the 2000 campaign. In her place, Tami Hebert would record 10 victories and help lead Southeast to six more wins than in 1999. But a year of sitting out was not a bad thing for Beth.
"I really think it was a blessing," Guccione said when referring to her injury. "I would have been very disappointed if last season would have been my last year at Southeast considering what the team has accomplished this year. I am really glad I got a chance to be a part of this season's squad."
And Gooch's presence off the field has been a blessing for a very young, but talented Southeast team. Guccione and forward Nichole Thiele are the only seniors on this team and their leadership to the newcomers has been a plus for the team this season. "There leadership has been so valuable to our team," said head coach Heather Nelson. "With all the new players we have this season, they have both done an outstanding job being leaders on and off the field."
Nichole and Beth have also formed a close bond off the field. The two have been roommates for the past two years and their relationship off the field translates into success on the field. "It has been great having someone who I can relate soccer stories too off the field," Gooch said. "Because she's a forward and I am a goalkeeper, we really get to see the entire field between the two of us. And since we both were junior college players who helped start the program, its great to see where we were and where we have come to in this short period."
Gooch's statistics on the field have been outstanding this season. In 16 team games, Beth has only allowed seven goals, while making 46 saves and recording 12 shutouts. Her 12 shutouts in 16 games gives her a shutout percentage of .75 for the season, with at least one more game to be played and hopefully two or three more games to play. If the season ended today she would rank second all-time in NCAA Division I soccer for shutout percentage in a season. She would only trail Siri Mullinix, who as a member of the powerhouse North Carolina Tar Heel squad, who recorded a .769 shutout percentage in 1998. If Southeast plays three more games this season and Beth does not record a shutout then she would be tied for second place all-time. If she can record at least one more shutout in the remaining games, she would guaranteed to be number two all by herself.
"It's kind of shocking," Guccione said when referring to the record. "To realize my name is going to be in the records books is great. And the fact that it will bring Southeast Missouri State some attention is even better. But I could not do it without my teammates and our great defense. I wish their names could be in there (the record book) alongside mine. It's definitely an honor I share with them."
So how did Southeast's defense improve so much over a three-year period? According to Guccione it has been a combination of things. "We changed to a four, flat back defense this season," Beth said. "We tried it my first year here but didn't use it much. It really works well with our team because we have four smart defenders who communicate well with each other. Basically it takes the pressure off of me a little because it limits the amount of shots I have to face."
Although the amount of shots she has had to face this season has declined, when needed, Gooch has stepped up to the challenge. Against OVC arch-rival Eastern Illinois, Gooch made a season-high 10 saves against a powerful EIU offensive unit that included the number one goal scorer in the country at the time. "It was a horrible day that day as far as the conditions go. But we really wanted to win because we had never beaten them before."
One play Guccione made in that game was stopping a shot from EIU's best offensive threat that was almost already in the goal. "The shot was heading for the corner of the goal and EIU's players had already jumped up off the bench," Coach Nelson relates. "But when Gooch made the save it was our players that jumped off the bench. It was a great defensive play and that helped win the game for us." Southeast eventually won that game 1-0 thanks to Guccione's outstanding performance.
But for every game Gooch makes outstanding saves there are two or three games where she faces hardly any action. Six times this season she has faced three or fewer shots from an opponent. "It can be a little boring back there," Guccione said when referring to the lack of shots she faces. "I am constantly talking back there trying to direct the defensive or to compliment a defender in an attempt to try to keep myself focused."
As the Otahkians head to postseason play, Guccione is confident in the team's chance not only in the OVC Tournament but also in NCAA play, if the team advances that far. "The Western Illinois game earlier this season (Southeast's only loss on the year) really made everyone focus," Gooch said. "It made us realize that we are not as invincible as we once thought. Plus, getting upset in last year's tournament will make everyone focus more. All of that combined with playing at home, at night, should give us an advantage."
So if the Otahkians can win two games this weekend, can they win in the NCAA Tournament? "I think we can go as far as we will let ourselves go. We're not going to lie down and die to anyone, no matter what their reputation is. I think we would have a lot of nerves since it would be our first trip to the tournament but I think we would be ready. It would be great to accomplish that and see how far our team has come in three short seasons."
No matter what the Otahkians outcome is this postseason, Guccione will leave Southeast as the career leader in every goalkeeper category and her feat of not allowing a goal during conference action is something that will be hard to duplicate anytime in the near future. She will also leave knowing she was a part of the first Southeast soccer team to win a OVC regular season championship and her contributions she made why helping start this program will benefit the Southeast teams down the line. But Guccione currently does not know what the future holds for her.
"I would like to keep playing soccer but I know I can't do that forever," Gooch said. "Last summer I played in the W-League (semi-professional) in Florida and wouldn't mind doing that again. But eventually I would like to get into coaching." Maybe one day Guccione will take her experiences starting the Southeast program and start her own program as a head coach in the future.
Coach Nelson cannot say enough about her graduating senior. "It was really sad last weekend," Nelson said referring to Senior Day, which marked the last regular season home game of Guccione and Thiele. "I hate to see them go because they have meant so much to our program these past three seasons."
"Beth is a natural leader on and off the field," Coach Nelson said. "She inspires confidence in all of our players and that is something that can't ask for more of as a coach. That is something that we look for out of a goalkeeper and Gooch definitely provides that. She is also so dominant at her position and she has such a great and total understanding of the game."