Ellie Sommers, in pink, gathers around with her fellow teammates during a match against the University of San Francisco on Oct. 15. Sommers is the starting goalkeeper for Women’s Soccer this year. Photo courtesy of Mary Elisabeth
That’s why she, along with one of her teammates, is only training for an hour or so. The Malibu sun beats down on them as they do.
Zoey Clevely, alumna (’22) and former goalkeeper for Pepperdine Women’s Soccer, chuckles as she recalls similar off days with Sommers in years past.
“Ellie? She’s always super spunky,” Clevely said.
Last year, Clevely and the Pepperdine Women’s Soccer Team, set a high standard, making it to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament. This year, with Clevely’s graduation, Sommers is the starting goalkeeper — a position Sommers said is full of uniquely difficult challenges.
“As a goalie, you can’t really make a lot of mistakes going into these matches, because they count your mistakes on the scoreboard,” Sommers said.
For the past two years, Sommers played under previous starting keeper Cleveley —both learning and improving, Sommers said. This year, Sommers said she draws from those experiences as she comes into the role Cleveley once held on and off the field.
“She’s a goalkeeper’s goalkeeper,” Head Coach Tim Ward said. “She studies the position, she understands it. She’s really thorough.”
Ward also said Sommers’ work ethic — as well as her academic zeal and religious character — made Sommers stand out. Clevely said she benefitted from this last year when Sommers trained with her.
“I don’t have the year I had last year if I don’t have Ellie,” Clevely said.
Both Sommers and Clevely said the two years Sommers played under Clevely resulted in an invaluable relationship.
“When I was training, we would go hard,” Sommers said. “But then we had the best relationship off the field.”
Sommers said at the start of her first year, this was not the case.
“Coming in, Zoe and I had a tough start because I came in kind of a hothead, and thought I was all that,” Sommers said. “All of us come from where we were the best at wherever we were, and so then you come here and you’re humbled a little bit.”
Sommers said over the course of her first and second year, she was able to mellow out — growing, learning and becoming closer to Clevely as she did.
“I think definitely last year is when I got out of that and became more humble,” Sommers said. “If I’m not on the field, if Tim [Ward] doesn’t believe I’m the person to do that, then I’m going to put my entire backing behind the person that is on the field so that we can be successful.”
This view is directly influenced by her Christian beliefs, Sommers said. Sommers is a member of the Churches of Christ and said she is a practicing Christian.
In her mental preparation for the often stressful situations a goalkeeper can face, she said if one is able to know their worth in the eyes of God, many of the other anxieties around her performance disappear.
“If I can go out and glorify Him when I step out on that field, that’d be my goal,” Sommers said.
Ward said it was partially Sommers’ commitment to faith that made an impression on him three years ago while recruiting. Ward said Christian doctrines of sacrifice and service have influenced his coaching philosophy.
Ward said sacrifice is one of the key principles he emphasizes in coaching. Ward said he often likes to refer back to a certain quote when defining humility in the context of the team.
“‘Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less,’” Ward said. “Practice with somebody else, for somebody else. Serve somebody else. Sacrifice your own agenda to help someone else achieve theirs.”
Ward said while it may sound counterintuitive, a player who prioritizes the goals of others ends up elevating themselves.
“I think both Ellie and Taylor have taken Harlee under their wing,” Ward said. “I think there’s a real camaraderie, there’s a real respect for the process.”
Cleveley said she is excited to see the season unfold not only for Sommers, but for the team and the group as a whole.
“I’m so proud of Ellie,” Clevely said. “I see her as easily a strong leader on this team. Someone who’s the rock, and I know that’s something she’s always wanted to be for this team and she always has been, and now she really is there, out on the field. She’s just such an amazing leader.”
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