WATERVILLE — Having one standout goalie is a luxury in college hockey. Having two of the best in the country on the same team is equal parts uncommon and magnificent.
Nobody has to remind Colby College women’s coach Holley Tyng how lucky she is in her third season with the Mules.
Freshman Nina Prunster boasts the fourth-best goals against average at 0.98 in NCAA Division III midway through the season, but even that type of performance is only half the story for Colby. Sophomore Cierra San Roman has a 1.16 goals against average of her own to give the Mules two of the best goalies — statistically speaking — anywhere in the nation.
“It puts us in a great situation to have the two of them competing,” Tyng said. “It only makes everybody else better. It’s a little bit of a logjam, but it’s a great problem to have as a coach.”
Combined, San Roman and Prunster have allowed opponents just 11 goals in 10 games for the Mules (6-2-3). They’ve posted three shutouts already between them, a big part of the reason the Mules are tied for Division III’s third-longest current unbeaten streak at seven games (4-0-3) heading into this weekend’s two-game New England Small College Athletic Conference road trip to Williams College.
The Mules and Ephs are tied for third place in the league.
No matter the level, good goaltending breeds success. Two years ago, the Mules managed just one point in league play — with a tie in its NESCAC opener against Bowdoin. With its 5-0 win over the University of Southern Maine on Tuesday, Colby equaled its longest unbeaten stretch in 17 years, dating to the 2001-02 season, and put the team just two wins shy of equaling last year’s eight-win total with more than half the season still remaining.
“Going into this season, our goal for this year was that we wanted a home playoff game,” San Roman said. “It’s such a great thing to be part of helping a team transition. The mentality all around has changed, even for me just being here for one and a half years, it’s changed so much.”
The roads to Waterville for Prunster and San Roman couldn’t have been more different.
Tyng recruited the California native San Roman almost as soon as she was named the program’s head coach. Prunster, meanwhile, was recruited at the same time out of her native Austria — where she spent the recent semester break trying out for the country’s senior women’s national team — while playing for boys hockey teams.
San Roman endured a difficult role last season, playing in 19 of the Mules’ 25 games as a clear-cut No. 1 while adjusting to life as a college athlete. Her numbers reflected that heavy workload with a respectable 2.32 GAA and .929 save percentage.
Things have taken off for the diminutive San Roman this season, bolstered by more recovery time between games with Prunster emerging as her equal in the crease. San Roman won just four games a season ago, a number she’s already equaled in only six appearances this winter.
“Having a year under my belt helped me prepare coming into this year,” said San Roman, who sits ninth in Division III with her goals against average and eighth in save percentage at .955. “The number of games I played was less than I played in high school, but (the schedule is) so compressed and every team that we’re playing is always good. You always have to be on. It’s really tough in this league to have an off day and win. It’s pretty much impossible.”
“Any player that comes into college, that’s a transition. To throw that all on one goalie’s plate like we did last year with Cierra, I think that’s a lot right off the bat,” Tyng said. “To allow Nina to get acclimated… but not have the pressure of she has to play well for the team to be successful is a good thing. I know Cierra felt a bit of that last year.”
Tyng said her two netminders share similar personality traits. The only differences between the two are their size (Prunster is nearly 6-feet tall, while San Roman is 5-6) and that San Roman is left-handed. The team in front of the duo, complete with an overhauled defensive corps, has responded.
“It’s a good thing to have two good goaltenders,” Prunster said. “You know that if you’re out, the team still has a good goaltender in net. You feel confident.”
“They’re both perfectionists,” Tyng added. “That’s what makes them outstanding. They’re both very loyal to their teammates, they’re both very supportive, they’d both do absolutely anything in the crease for their team. I think that’s what makes them successful, and I think their personalities show in their play.”
How selfless are they?
Prunster had no idea what her season’s statistics were — or how they stacked up nationally.
“I actually don’t know my statistics,” Prunster said. “I really don’t know what they are. I have no idea. For me, it’s about pushing each other to our best. I don’t see Cierra as competition, but she makes me want to get better every single time out. That’s what drives me.”
For both standout goalies, they’ve been a huge part of the Mules first-half success this season. The team ranks sixth in the country in scoring defense, allowing only 1.27 goals per game.
“Our defense and our team defense, even from a systematic standpoint, it’s much more solid than it’s been in the past,” Tyng said. “That’s going to help any goalie.”
Travis Barrett — 621-5621