FREELAND, MI – Two days into tryouts, Freeland girls soccer coach Ciaran Byrne was not ready to throw in the towel.
But there was an early onset of apprehension, with some minor panic attacks.
“The first week of tryouts, the player we expected to play keeper met with me and told me that she had decided not to play soccer and was going to play travel volleyball instead,” Byrne said. “Oh-oh. What are we going to do? Who has experience? Who is the next one up?
“There really wasn’t any experience coming back. What are we going to do? We thought we were up a creek.”
Byrne and the Falcons made the right move, taking sophomore defender Avery Seeburger and talking her into playing goaltender. Freeland is 13-2-4 heading into the Division 3 girls soccer regional semifinals at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Freeland. Flint Powers faces Williamston at 7 p.m.
Byrne’s first phone call went to Jeremy Mueller, the father of Freeland sophomore Catherine Mueller.
“He was the coach for most of these girls in travel soccer, so he knew them pretty well,” Byrne said. “I asked who would be up to it. He thought Avery was up to it if we could convince her.”
That wasn’t necessarily an easy job.
“The last time I played goaltender was when I was 8 or 9 years old, and it was the same type of situation,” Seeburger said. “They needed someone. I’ve played defense since then, so I wasn’t really sure about that. My dad (Pat Seeburger) talked me into it. He said the team needed me to do it, and it was a great opportunity for me.”
Seeburger has 13 shutouts this season and has made 88 saves with a 0.44 goals against average.
“She has a lot of things going for her that make her a good keeper,” Byrne said. “She has natural athleticism, and she’s very competitive. From being on defense all those years, she’s also learned to be very physical. She’s not afraid of contact.
“She’d been around the game long enough to learn the nuances of the position. We just couldn’t be happier with how it’s worked out. She’s been phenomenal.”
And what became as a necessary experiment to cover up a weakness has become a Freeland strength.
“After the first couple of games, I got used to it and started to enjoy it,” Seeburger said. “Having played on defense helps. I can tell my defense where to go, what to watch for. Plus, I’m competitive. It’s a good feeling when you stop the other team.”
Freeland won the district title behind a pair of Seeburger’s shutouts, beating Swan Valley 3-0 in the semifinal and Ovid-Elsie 4-0 in the championship match.
Wednesday’s game is a bit more challenging. Garber is 17-2-2 and won the Tri-Valley Conference East title, tying Freeland 2-2 before earning a 1-0 win in the second matchup. In the other bracket, Flint Powers and Williamston are traditional girls soccer powers, with Williamston owning a 14-2-1 record and Powers standing at 8-3-6 overall, 4-2-2 in the Saginaw Valley League. In their only matchup this season, Powers and Williamston tied, 1-1.
The winners of Wednesday’s semifinals play at 6 p.m. Friday at Freeland in the regional championship game. The regional champion advances to play in a semifinal game at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Howell against the winner of the Detroit Country Day-Warren Regina regional matchup.
“This might be the best regional in the state … it would not surprise me to see the winner of this regional win the state title,” Byrne said. “And I hope whoever it is does go on to win the championship. It’s a great testament to the level of talent in this regional.”
Meanwhile, a position that had Byrne in a mini-panic before the season has become a source of comfort now and in the future.
“Avery is a sophomore, and she has been tremendous this season … so we have her for two more years in goal,” Byrne said. “We also have a great freshman keeper and even a talented eighth-grader.
“We were so concerned that we had no goaltenders before the season, and now we’re sitting on a lot of talent and depth. We’re in the best goaltending position we’ve been in a long time at this school.”
All it took was a bit of desperation and some gentle persuasion.