In the words of the prolific Mr. Miyagi in the 1984 film “The Karate Kid” “No such thing as bad student, bad teacher.”
For the Penn State women’s soccer team, goalkeepers Erin McNulty and Britt Eckerstrom have embraced a teacher-student relationship that has been all good for the No. 4 Nittany Lions (11-2-0).
McNulty, a graduate student in her final year of eligibility, has had a very decorated career in four seasons. Her resume includes playing in a national championship as a member of the 2007 Florida State Seminoles while still an undergraduate student. The Florida native opened the season as Penn State’s starting goalkeeper but has seen her role change of late.
Eckerstrom, a redshirt freshman, came into the season less established but has managed to slip into the starting role through hard work in practice.
With the competitive nature of position battles, head coach Erica Walsh said that the relationship between the two keepers is unique.
“It’s more of a mentor-mentee [relationship],” Walsh said. “I applaud McNulty for her mentorship and her willingness to take Britt under her wing for a year and a half. Watching the two of them operate is an absolute joy.”
McNulty started the first nine games of the season with a 7-1-0 record (one loss was counted as a team loss), with Eckerstrom seeing a few minutes at the end of matches. Walsh said that she does not like to split time in a game between keepers and decided to give Eckerstrom the start against Northwestern after seeing good things in practice.
The freshman established herself out of the gate allowing only one goal in the match as the Lions cruised to a 4-1 victory.
Eckerstrom has shined in her role thus far. She is 4-0 as a starter in five games and with only five goals allowed. She has the same amount of saves as McNulty  in four less starts.
“I’ve been training for a while and had all last year to prepare so I just hoped to take my opportunity in net and do the best I can for the team,” Eckerstrom said. “I want to do what the team needs me to do and get some big saves hopefully.”
Assistant coach Tim Wassell, who has worked specifically with the keepers, has seen a lot of growth in Eckerstrom’s game.
“Britt’s obviously got a tremendous amount of upside and that’s not to say that she doesn’t still have a lot of room to grow,” Wassell said. “It’s been an interesting last few weeks for sure.”
Wassell has described the team as “blessed” for their current situation at the net, and says that he thinks that the Lions have “two of the top 20 goalkeepers in the country.”
Though McNulty’s on-field role has changed, her role as an unselfish leader within the team has not changed to the Penn State staff.
“Erin has tried to make Britt her best self, which is very admirable and very selfless,” Wassell said. “Erin is unique in that her legacy will not be defined by what she does this year. She’ll have a lasting impression on this program because of everything she stands for. I couldn’t be more proud of the way she has taken on this challenging situation.
The relationship goes past just McNulty and Eckerstrom, with five goalkeepers on the Lion’s roster. The situation has bred competition and pulled the best out of each player.
“We have a really good environment and we’re lucky to have players like Erin McNulty and Kristen [Hartmann] and [Tara]Barr, even a freshman in Megan Kaminski,” Eckerstrom said. “We’re all pushing each other and it’s really competitive but at the end of the day we’re all really good friends and have a great time doing it. I couldn’t ask for better teammates.”