By Shanna O’Mara
The top goalkeeper in the conference has recorded six shutouts so far this season, racking up the most saves in the MAAC. She was chosen for the 2015 preseason All-MAAC team and has been named MAAC Defensive Player of the Week three times so far this season.
Rider’s Bethany-May Howard has been leading the conference in saves all season, helping the women’s soccer team remain undefeated at home and 7-5 overall.
With all of these impressive awards and statistics, it would seem safe to assume Howard is consumed with memorizing strategic form and successful tactics to keep opponents at bay. Actually, she likes to keep it simple.
“I’m the goalkeeper,” she said. “I just stop the ball.”
Howard admits that her success comes not just from grueling practices and physically demanding drills, but from a true love of the game.
“I grew up playing other sports,” she said. “I tried field hockey, rounders, netball, track, even cricket, but soccer was always my favorite. Soccer is my thing.”
She began playing in her village in Glastonbury, England, at the age of 5 with the encouragement of her family.
“My dad played when he was younger,” she said. “Then he helped coach my brother’s team. I grew up watching Aston Villa with him, so soccer was always big in our family.”
She continued her athletic career playing on her county’s team as a teenager, then for the Yeovil Town Ladies. At Bridgwater College, she was selected to play for the England Colleges National Football Squad both years she attended. While on this team, Howard competed against the national U17 and U19 Estonian team in Estonia. There, Howard met a soon-to-be-fellow Bronc.
“[Junior forward] Hollie Kelsh was on the team during my second year at college,” she said. “So we’ve been teammates for a while. We went to Estonia in May after we both committed to Rider in December 2012.”
Kelsh believes their experience together at home has benefited them during their time at Rider.
“Because we are both from England, and played on the soccer team together, we have a lot in common and have a great understanding of each other,” Kelsh said.
When touring universities in England and America, Howard admits that soccer played a large role in her decision.
“You can’t combine sports and academics in England,” she said. “So to go to an English university, I would have had to continue playing on a club team. I couldn’t play for Yeovil anymore, so I thought, ‘Well if I can’t play for Yeovil, why not do something different?’”
While the move to America was a big step, Howard says she did not fear the unknown.
“The change didn’t scare me,” she said. “If you have the opportunity to go abroad and try something new, you should take it.”
Although Howard had never been to the United States before, she knew that Rider was going to be a good fit for her.
“Rider was the best school that contacted me,” she said. “I liked the location of it too. Being near New York was exciting. I had never been to America before, so growing up in England, its like ‘Oh my God, New York!’”
Head Coach Drayson Hounsome is known for recruiting talented international players, as he is an immigrant himself. Originally from the Channel Islands of Great Britain, Hounsome has experience in English competition as well as American.
“We have lots of internationals on our team,” Howard said. “It makes for an interesting team dynamic.”
This dynamic is what keeps the team winning, according to Hounsome.
“Bethany-May is part of a very special group,” he said. “Without the dynamics of the group, each individual wouldn’t be as good or reach the heights that they are able to reach.”
Howard agrees that she owes much of her success to her team. Although she is publicly praised more so than anyone else on the team, it is not because they are any less talented.
“The reason that everything has been about me is because the goalkeepers get the statistics,” she said. “Every time I make a save, I’ll get a statistic, and it will look great, even if the ball rolled to me at two miles an hour. Whereas the defense, which has done a great job at forcing the ball at two miles an hour at me, doesn’t get any credit unless they score a goal, and that’s not even their job. Watching a game, it’s not about me.
She credits the offensive line for scoring against the opponent and the strong defense for keeping them from retaliating.
“I can’t win a game,” she said. “I can’t score the goals and put the ball in the other net. It takes the team to do that. If I was pummeled for 90 minutes, we wouldn’t keep clean sheets. The defense keeps those. I’m not saying I’m no good. I’m not saying I don’t make good saves, but that’s not the be-all-end-all of the game. It’s a team effort. If we score a great goal, that’s just as important as our defenders putting in a great challenge to stop the other team from getting a goal.”
Humility is certainly one of Howard’s most notable traits, along with many others, according to Hounsome.
“[She is] trustworthy, caring, hard-working, intelligent, focused, always has a desire to win,” he said. “She has developed into a natural leader of the team, and so I can see her inspiring her teammates to be the best they can be which collectively can lead to success as a team.”
Because she is a “natural leader,” it was the logical next step that she take on a greater responsibility for her team.
“Beth is one of our captains this year,” Kelsh said. “She has a great positive energy, and its great to be around. She is a top girl, a great friend and is always up for helping others. Beth is very smart, so she influences people with her cleverness.”
Howard’s intelligence expands beyond the realm of the soccer world. A junior in the Baccalaureate Honors Program, Howard is working toward a history degree.
“My mom always told me to do what you enjoy doing,” she said. “I’ve always enjoyed history; it really interests me. I don’t know exactly what path I want to go down, so history was a nice general major that is respected. It has lots of different skillsets like writing and thinking critically.”
As for continuing her athletic influence even after her playing days are over, Howard has a plan for the future.
“My goalkeeping coach [in Yeovil] offered to pay me last summer if I helped him, but I stayed here,” she said. “But maybe this winter I could go back and do that.”
Howard has plans for her time left at Rider as well. Prior to the start of the season, the team set goals as a unit and individually.
“We want to win the MAAC again,” she said. “And we want to go a step further by winning our first, and the MAAC’s first, NCAA game.”
This season, the women are hopeful as they near the playoffs. However, they’re trying to take it slow and focus on the big picture.
“Take every season as it goes,” she said. “If we achieve our goals this year, maybe we can make it further next year. Personally, I want us to win on my senior day next year because my family will be here for the first time.