David Bergeland/Durango Herald
The smallish brunette bopped around in her tie-dye T-shirt with an aura of confidence that seemed to tell everyone that the net at her backside is sacred ground, and nobody’s intruding on it without her permission.
Karlee Mulkey’s brief respite from goalkeeping last year simply served as a reminder of how much she missed the thrill of stopping a well-placed shot. And the transition back to net protector has been every bit as good for the Durango High School girls soccer team as it has been for its new goalie.
Mulkey is part of a Demons’ defensive corps that’s produced five shutouts and allowed just six goals in 10 games, helping Durango into first place in the Southwestern League at 4-1-0 with the two teams tied for second – Grand Junction and Fruita Monument – headed to town this weekend.
Last year, Abby Surmeier and the since-graduated Jessica Thulson split nearly every game in net, so naturally the assumption was the net belonged to Surmeier this year. Only the senior opted not to play her final year, leaving the duties to Mulkey, who played in the midfield last year.
DHS head coach Aaron Eldridge then approached Mulkey about returning to the net, and Mulkey was all-too-happy to oblige.
“She said, ‘I was going to talk to you about that,’” Eldridge said, laughing. “That’s exactly what she said.”
The transition went smoother than perhaps anticipated, mostly because of familiarity. Mulkey had played junior varsity ball as a goalie behind fellow seniors Erin Maxwell, Meghan O’Brien, Amanda Jones and Amanda Urban, so the current starting varsity defensive corps knew what to expect.
“It’s always been relatively easy for us to switch between keepers because we all get along very well,” said Urban, daughter of Jeff and Lynn Urban. “It’s interesting at times because Karlee and Abby had different styles; (Thulson) and Abby had different styles.”
Still, the transition wasn’t without some hiccups – most notably the rust that comes from taking a year off at the position.
“It was a little iffy ... but I feel like I’m the best I’ve ever been right now,” said Mulkey, daughter of Duane and Michelle Mulkey.
The switch back to her natural position had Mulkey’s head coach glowing about her confidence since making the switch. Safe to say, Eldridge is satisfied with the tangible results, too.
“I think she really feels a place of belonging now in the goal. Like it’s where she should be,” Eldridge said.
“She has been really strong for us this year. Her positioning and her reading of the game, and she’s made some saves that probably should’ve been goals against us.”
Part of her success is her aggressiveness off her goal line, a trait that led Urban to label Mulkey the most aggressive goalie off the line she’s ever played with. It’s a trait Mulkey said likely developed from her somewhat tiny stature – the idea being that if she can get to the ball first, opponents can’t shoot over her. Plus it’s just an ingrained part of her mindset.
“It’s very easy for me to get chipped, so if I can get to the ball before they can, I save the goal.
“I’m more confident with my hands than my feet, really. I really enjoy the mental pressure as a goalie, surprisingly.”
Mulkey did score three goals last year, including a two-goal game against Montezuma-Cortez. Having been on both sides of the coin, she’s confident which she prefers – and it’s not a big surprise.
“I think I actually like saving them. Scoring is awesome, but I really like the adrenaline rush that saves give you,” she said.