Courtesy of ANNE ERIKSEN
We could all take a lesson from Charlene Belanger on how to focus.
After an injury kept her off the field her freshman year, the sophomore goalkeeper beat out senior Klare Lazor for the starting spot in goal and recorded 84 saves on the season.
“One of the things that’s great about Charlene is that she has a great ability to focus, and she kind of zones in when it’s game time,” AU head coach Dave Bucciero said. “You can see it in her play that she has a really good concentration to make plays when she’s called on, and I think she thrives on it. She’s got a strong confidence about her.”
Belanger’s comeback season came to end Nov. 2, when Colgate defeated the women’s soccer team in the Patriot League Semifinals. The loss came just a few days after the Eagles came back from a 2-0 deficit against Colgate to force a 2-2 draw Oct. 27.
The Eagles entered the Patriot League Tournament for the first time since 2009 after finishing with a 4-2-1 conference record that included four consecutive shutouts. Belanger said those four shutouts were important for her team “to make a name for themselves” going into the tournament.
The Eagles weren’t as successful early in the season. But despite the lack of offense in a number of non-conference losses, Belanger stayed consistent in goal.
“It was frustrating for everyone,” she said. “I just have to keep in mind that I’m doing everything that I possibly can to help the team. It’s not my job to do everything, so I just need to remember what my job is and how my personal contributions help the team.”
Perhaps Belanger’s basic instinct to want to do everything stems from the fact that she was unable to do anything for most of her freshman year.
After suffering an injury to her knee two years ago while playing high school soccer, Belanger hurt her knee again just before she came to AU. This time, Belanger had to face an agonizing surgery and a year of rehab.
Once she learned most of her teammates had gone through rehab, some more than once, she was able to identify with them and feel like they were “there to lean on.”
“I think that if you can trust your teammates off the field, you can definitely trust them on the field,” she said.
Belanger focused on making improvements to her game this year in order to prevent future injuries and to earn the starting spot after splitting time in goal with Lazor early in the season.
“She asked me point blank, ‘What do I have to do to earn a starting position?’” Bucciero said. He told her she needed to do better making saves in one-on-one situations and become physically stronger, which she did.
Belanger said while those things were important, it was more about maintaining a positive outlook in the face of uncertainty about her knee injury.
“That’s the number one priority, is to have a good attitude and to try to maintain that attitude regardless of the score or the situation of the game,” she said.
The Eagles will enjoy a short, two-week break until they enter the weight room for offseason lifting, Belanger said.
“Work in the weight room is going to be important because she is a little bit smaller,” Bucciero said. “I think continuing to add strength to her body will enable her to make even more saves.”
Other than making small improvements, Bucciero said Belanger’s unnerving determination was key in her recovery.
“Charlene is a great kid to coach and very eager to learn and very passionate about the program,” he said. “I’ve seen her on a number of occasions before practice working on her kicking and working on other things, and I think that shows her passion and drive to be the best.”