Luke's return in goal bolsters Corona del Mar

When circumstances created a need for a goalkeeper on the Corona del Mar High girls' soccer team this season, Lindsey Luke did what she does best.

She reacted.

An acrobatic netminder who honed her reflexes by spending her junior year practicing with the highly successful CdM boys' team, Luke needed little encouragement to answer the call when junior Sarah Cox, a first-team All-Pacific Coast League keeper last season, was lost for the season with a torn ACL.

"I didn't pursue her," CdM girls' coach Bryan Middleton said about Luke's decision to rejoin the program for which she starred as a freshman and sophomore. "I think some of the [Sea Kings players] asked her to come back and play."

Though appreciative of her time working with the boys' team, the Wake Forest-bound Luke said she missed her girls' teammates, as well as the competitive challenge of high school soccer.

"I missed it, and the girls, and playing for the school," said Luke, whose prominence as the last line of defense has helped the Sea Kings produce a 3-1-2 start.

Luke had three shutouts in three games at a tournament in San Diego last week, earning all-tournament honors. The Daily Pilot High School Athlete of the Week helped the Sea Kings match nationally ranked Santa Margarita, 0-0, then made 12 saves in a 0-0 stalemate with Cathedral Catholic of San Diego.

"She had a phenomenal tournament," said Middleton, for whom Luke twice earned second-team All-CIF Southern Section Division II and first-team All-PCL recognition before electing to take her junior year off to focus on improving her skills.

Luke, who signed early with Wake Forest in the fall of her junior year — after considering the likes of Washington, San Diego, Florida, TCU, Oklahoma, Harvard and Dartmouth — also wanted to free up her availability for the under-18 national team, the player pool for which she was selected about the same time.

Wanting to not only maintain, but enhance her skills, she asked CdM boys' coach George Larsen, who had coached her for years in the Newport Beach-based Slammers club program, if she could practice with the boys' team.

"Since club soccer doesn't play during the high school season, I wanted to stay in shape," Luke said. "Everything about the boys' game is different from the girls' game and, obviously the speed of play is much faster. I gained a lot from the experience. It really made me open up my eyes as a player and a person."

Luke practiced with the boys and attended every game on their way to section and regional championships, as well as the No. 2 final national ranking by ESPN Rise.

"She wanted to use training with the boys to develop her game," Larsen said. "She has been playing for me for a long time with the Slammers and her teams have won about every major youth trophy out there, including five straight state titles. She had already jumped in with the boys at Slammers practices and she realized how pushing yourself with that level of training can help. It really does improve your reactions."

Those reactions, which were already good enough to allow just three goals in 20 games (two of which were on penalty kicks), during her sophomore girls' season at CdM, have indeed improved, Middleton said.

"Her strength is her basic awareness in goal," said Middleton, who also praised Luke's ability to vocally orchestrate a defense. "She reads the game very well."

And when it comes time to act upon her instincts, Luke's ability becomes more obvious.

"Her lateral movement diving for balls is the best that I've seen in high school," Middleton said.

Her desire to improve and her love for the game began as a 9-year-old Slammers newcomer who played forward. She said she switched to goalie one or two seasons in and basically started from scratch.

"I was really, really bad," she said. "I was one of the smallest girls out there and I couldn't jump."

She said she began to blossom as a teenager and has always approached the game with passion.

"I just love the game and love the adrenaline rush I get playing goalie," said Luke, who at 5-foot-7 is still undersized. "I'm still not that tall, but I love making that save in the upper V [top corner of the net]."

Larsen said her devotion to the game may be her biggest attribute.

"She's a soccer junkie," Larsen said. "Her room is a shrine to soccer and her teams. She's a kid who eats, breathes and sleeps soccer. She's always looking for new ways to challenge herself and, as a coach, those are the kinds of traits you are looking for in your players."

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