It was in 2005 when then freshman in high school Gordon Hayward almost quit basketball all together, preparing a speech for his high school basketball coach about the decision. Little did he know that he would grow nine more inches, lead Butler University to a NCAA National Championship appearance and be drafted by the Utah Jazz and start an NBA career with an average of 12 points per game through four seasons.
Starting Storm goalkeeper, Zach McEntee went even further than Hayward; he quit soccer during his junior year at Dowling Catholic High School. Little did McEntee know that four years later he’d be in the box, leading Simpson men’s soccer to successful start to the 2014 season.
“Soccer has actually been kind of a difficult for me,” said McEntee. “I actually quit soccer my junior year of high school, and assistant coach at Simpson, Brian Duax, was big in bringing me back. He influenced me to come back, and I ended up leading Dowling Catholic to a state championship.”
Following this resurgence in high school, McEntee had his sights set even higher than Division III soccer. He received offers from the likes of Division I DePaul University, NAIA Clarke University, and also the Division III stalwart in St. Thomas University in Minnesota.
But after Duax, the then Dowling Catholic men’s soccer coach, put a good word in for McEntee at Simpson, McEntee met with head coach Rick Isaacson and ever since he’s been wearing the Storm red, white, and gold.
After waiting behind Simpson goalkeeper Luke Aronow, only getting a few spot starts, and dealing with a suspension during his sophomore season , McEntee has taken full advantage of the starting goalkeeping position for the Storm.
Prior to Wednesday’s game with Buena Vista, McEntee has added eight wins to his previous 1-4 record going into this year, making 45 saves on a .763 save percentage, all the while compiling two shutouts and an IIAC Defensive Player of the Week award.
“I think Zach has always set high standards for himself,” said Simpson goalkeeping coach and Dowling Catholic teammate, Will Heaston. “This season really illustrates how is able to play at a high level, and it’s a testament to that part of Zach.”
McEntee, who played behind Heaston at Dowling Catholic and now coaches the goalies at Simpson, considers Heaston to be the best mentor and the only goalkeeping coach he’s ever had.
“The goalkeeper coach and goalkeeper relationship is a unique one to soccer,” said Heaston. “It’s a lot of give and take and a lot to do with tailoring instruction to his needs. We have a really open relationship.”
One thing that both Heaston and McEntee’s teammates notice about McEntee’s game is his relentless intensity, physicality in the box, and ability to put plays behind him and look forward.
“He’s fearless,” said junior Defender and close friend, Drew Johnston. “I’ve always thought that to be a goalie you have to be a different breed and Zach definitely fits that characteristic. He commands his box and wants to make his presence know. Anyone who knows Zach would say that he’s got a big personality and heart.”
This grit, toughness and confidence is evident in McEntee’s play but can also be seen in the professional soccer players he models his game after.
“My professional influence has been Joe Hart of Manchester City,” said McEntee. “I really admire how he plays. He’s just a relentless, ‘I’m going to win this ball’, type of player. Tim Howard is another influence for me. His physicality, mentality, and that ‘couple of bolts out of my head’ personality reflects how I like to play.”
McEntee’s mental game and approach to soccer combined with his rangy 6 ft. 2 in. frame and great instincts make McEntee well equipped in the box, which is a position he didn’t actually start playing until his sophomore year of high school. This would be hard to pick up when seeing McEntee making diving saves on penalty kicks against Nebraska Wesleyan and University of Wisconsin – Whitewater this season, both of which were made to either preserve a one-goal lead or keep the game tied.
“He’s a pretty rangy guy,” said Johnston. “That helps him to make the great saves we are used to seeing from him. He’s more athletic than people give him credit for. On the field, my favorite memory of him is making that big PK save against Nebraska Wesleyan this year. It was a big time play that really turned the tide of the game in our favor.”
Although this attention from teammates like Johnston and his coaches is nice, McEntee emphasizes a stark unselfishness and team-oriented mind frame when it comes to soccer. Being a goalie isn’t about the saves he makes but rather the chances the saves create for his teammates to win games for the Storm.
“My favorite part of playing goalie is giving my team the opportunity for glory,” said McEntee. “If I can make that big save and keep our team in the game and give them the opportunity to win, that’s what I like to do. I like seeing them celebrate as a team, that makes me smile.”
Amidst the intensity of preparation and competition on the field, McEntee tries to and knows how to keep it lighthearted when needed. His blunt, straightforward personality is combined with a magnetic liveliness that his teammates appreciate about their goalie.
“He’s someone that is hardworking but also likes to have fun and be social,” said Johnston. “The kid can have a conversation with anyone. Off the field my greatest memory with Zach is when he took control of the microphone on the bus in Costa Rica and provided some nice entertainment for the whole team.”
McEntee and the whole Storm men’s soccer team will look to keep it in high-throttle on the field but lighthearted when they can as they jump into the thick of their conference schedule this weekend against nationally ranked, Luther College in Decorah. The Storm have showed flashes of their full potential throughout the first half of the season, something McEntee has contributed to as he continues to strive toward being the goalie coaches like Duax, Isaacson, and Heaston know he can be.
“I think the sky’s the limit for Zach,” said Heaston. “I don’t think he’s even reached his full potential, and it’s up to him to determine how far he goes this year and in his career.”