Junior goalkeeper Alyssa Heintschel started all 20 of the Cardinals' soccer games last season, leading the team to the Mid-American Conference regular season title.
But it wasn't enough to keep head coach Craig Roberts from bringing in Tristin Stuteville, a junior transfer from Saint Louis University, to compete for the starting job.
Heintschel said she knew Stuteville was "the real deal."
“I knew she was just as talented [as me], just as hardworking, you know?” Heintschel said. “She has all of these great qualities that she can bring to the team as well so I knew I had my work cut out for me.”
The position battle is indicative of the "competition cauldron" Roberts tries to create on the team.
"Each week we know it’s a clean slate and we evaluate them on how well they perform from week to week, and based on that we choose our selection," he said. "And as that comes into play, the person who’s been probably the most consistent will kind of get the edge when we go into conference play.”
Stuteville decided to transfer after appearing in just seven games with the Billikens as a sophomore. She said she knew Ball State was a better match when she made her official visit.
“Coming in, I sat down and talked with the coaches, kind of got a feel of what direction they wanted the program to go into and kind of what they have been doing so far and I really liked it,” Stuteville said. “It seemed to fit with what I wanted out of my college experience and the coaches really fit me as a player.”
The pair of goalkeepers have fairly even stats so far this season. Heintschel has started four games and has totaled 23 saves, including a career-high 11 saves in a 1-0 double-overtime upset of Louisville, to Stuteville's seven saves in three starts.
Stuteville, however, has only allowed two goals to Heintschel's six goals. Stuteville also has a higher save percentage (.857 versus .793).
Roberts said the Cardinals' depth in the net gives the team some insurance.
“If one them did get injured, we have the comfort of knowing that we have a very good goalkeeper backing that up,” he said.
But everybody wants to earn the position fair and square, he said, and whoever ends up on the bench will keep rooting on the starter.
“Our team is very family oriented, and we’re going to compete," he said. "But we want what’s best for the program, so nothing is personal.”
Heintschel even said the goalkeepers' rivalry is suspended when they step off the pitch.
“We’re very good friends off the field," Heintschel said. "I’ve been in situations in the past where the other goalkeeper and I did not get along, personalities don’t mesh, we’re competitive on the field so off the field it almost gets personal and [Stuteville] and I are not that way, which is something I’m very grateful for."
On Sept. 16, either Heintschel or Stuteville will start against Morehead State (3-3-1). Both, however, know they won't be the center of attention — the mid-season game will be Senior Day.