Women’s Soccer: Sydney Drinkwater has become a fixture in between the goalposts
The redshirt senior has missed just one game in her FAU career
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Sydney Drinkwater and her designated No. 27 goalie jersey have become a mainstay inside of the 24-foot-by-8-foot cage better known as Florida Atlantic’s home field soccer nets.
Since transferring from the University of South Florida, the redshirt senior has played every second of all 43 games from the start of the 2014 season up until her red card earlier this season against Jacksonville University.
While Jacksonville marked the first time Drinkwater didn’t start a game at FAU, where she played 3,866 minutes in her first two seasons, the sidelines aren’t necessarily uncharted waters for the left-footed goalie.
She spent her freshman year at USF sitting on the sidelines for all but 85 minutes during the season.
“She’s kind of a castaway,” said Drinkwater’s head coach, Patrick Baker.
In her first season at FAU, the all-conference goalie dropped the opposing team’s goals per game average from 1.16 the year prior to her arrival to 0.98 in 2014 — the seventh best mark in program history.
“It was a great feeling and it was very rewarding to know that I could succeed here. It definitely gave me a huge confidence boost,” Drinkwater said. “It was just great knowing at the end of the day that [FAU] was the correct choice.”
The following year she built on that success and limited opponents to 0.73 goals per game — the second best in FAU history behind Megan Coyne’s 0.28 mark in 2005.
In that time, the Owls have improved their season-win total from five to seven and up to 12 last year. The last team to reach double-digit wins accomplished that feat in 2005.
Baker said, “To come in and be a leader, be an all-conference player, and she just endeared herself to her teammates, I just can’t say enough about her.”
One specific teammate Drinkwater has connected with is her backup — redshirt sophomore Jennifer Ocampo. Baker said the two look like they’re “best buds” when they practice together.
“They don’t see it as a starter or a non-starter,” he said. “They’re just trying to push one another and it’s an awesome partnership they have … and Jenny’s been such a fan of Drink’s for so long.”
Ocampo called her older teammate a role model.
“I try to learn from her and she learns from me, we’re really each other’s biggest cheerleader,” Ocampo said. “She’s a pleasure to be a teammate with.”
Redshirt senior and Conference USA’s Preseason Co-Defensive Player of the Year Erica Burt feels the effects of Drinkwater’s presence in goal as much as anybody.
“Sydney’s just a big leader on the field, we know on the back line that she always has our back,” Burt said. “It’s just the confidence we have in her and the confidence she has in us, the back line.”
Now, early into her senior year, Drinkwater wants more. After improving in each of her previous seasons, she feels the team is ready to take its next step.
“I feel like we’re so much further ahead than we were last year when it comes to the talent we have and I’m really excited because I feel like this is the season we’re going to make it farther than we ever made it,” she said.
As this is her last season, Drinkwater wants to make it count.
“This is it,” she said. “Our coaches always say if everyone played like seniors we’d have a much better team and not until our first game against Florida Gulf Coast, it really hit me that this is what he really meant.”
The Owls last game of 2015 came against Rice University in the first round of the Conference USA tournament. They lost 2-1.
“I thought last year we could’ve gotten a ring and last year we definitely had the talent for it,” Drinkwater said. “So going to this season, it made it more motivating during this summer to come back more prepared and more ready than ever.”
Drinkwater used that motivation to make sure she was fully prepared for her last ride.
Her trainer? None other than her father.
“He really gets me prepared and he’s the one that wakes me up and makes sure I go and do everything. He’ll run with me when I do long distance runs … it’s wonderful,” she said. “He’s like my own little personal trainer.”
“Without him I honestly wouldn’t have made it this far because he’s the one that motivates me and pushes me to become a better soccer player and a better person and it is really cool to have him out there with me because I look around at all my friends and a lot of them don’t have that.”
Drinkwater continued to say that the offseason is the most challenging — not because of the workload, but because of the lack of any immediate reward.
“When you get to play the whole season and get to go to conference and stuff, then all that hard work you did in the offseason is all worth it … you get to go and show off all your hard work that you did,” she said. “Basically that’s your reward for everything you’ve done.”
She’s still waiting for her opportunity to display her effors in a championship-like atmosphere.
She has been waiting since 2010 when she led Merritt Island High School to a state championship during her MVP season.
Once her high school career came to a close, Drinkwater’s quest extended by over a year when she had to stay on the bench.
“I wouldn’t trade [USF] for anything for what I walked away with and the lessons I learned, but I’m happy that I transferred and I’m happy that I transferred here because here gave me a much better opportunity to succeed,” Drinkwater said.
Baker is just as happy. He talked about last season’s game at Western Kentucky — which ended as a scoreless draw — and how it could have been a lot worse if it wasn’t for Drinkwater’s eight-save performance.
“There will be a game where she is going to get us a result,” he said. “There was last year at Western Kentucky. We weren’t really good, but she was phenomenal and kept a clean sheet.”
The head coach continued to rave about his redshirt senior goalie and the aura that surrounds her.
When she came back from her one-game suspension, he said it was like putting on a favorite blanket: “You put it on, it’s comfortable, it’s cozy, it’s what we know.”
The Broken Deal that Turned Surreal
When Drinkwater first started playing soccer she never imagined herself in between the goalposts until her team’s goalie threatened to quit on the last day of a youth tournament.
“I was like, ‘You can’t quit, you’re our only goalie,’” Drinkwater said. “‘We’re not going to lose the last day of the tournament.’”
The Merritt Island, Florida native made a deal with her teammate, where she would play half the game in goal, just to prevent the incumbent from quitting.
The deal failed to make a difference.
“She quit and I was stuck being goalie, and that’s how it all began,” Drinkwater said. “I was the goalie ever since then.”