â€‰ On a team that had most of its top players coming back, a newcomer has made his presence felt.
Ryan Coulter, the goalkeeper for the East Tennessee State soccer team, is off to a rousing start in his new surroundings.
“I really think there’s something big going on here and I’m glad to be a part of it,” Coulter said Thursday.
The Bucs are 3-0 and ranked 19th in one national poll, their first national ranking ever.
Through three games, the sophomore from Ireland has been perfect, playing every minute and not allowing a goal.
“I can’t take all the credit,” Coulter said. “My first game, I think I touched the ball a couple of times. Everyone on our team doesn’t want to concede goals. It’s a good team and everyone is doing the right things.” C o u l t e r ’s importance has Coulter increased with each game. After not being called upon to make any saves in the season opener against Presbyterian, he made a few against UNC-Greensboro. Then in the Bucs’ last outing, a 2-0 win over Marshall, he was called on nine times and stopped every one.
“He’s been very solid in goal for us and he’s grown in confidence each game,” ETSU coach Scott Calabrese said. “In the Marshall game, he made three difficult saves that were real key. If he doesn’t, it goes to 1-1. That changes the game and gives Marshall the confidence to push forward and it might have been a different game.”
Coulter began his career at the University of San Diego, but after playing less than five minutes in his two seasons there, he realized he’d better find another place to play.
“Things really didn’t go as I had hoped,” Coulter said. “I was never given a real opportunity to show myself.”
He asked for and got his release, and within a week, ETSU assistant coach Ian Luya was on the phone.
“I didn’t really know much about East Tennessee State,” Coulter admitted.
So he did a little research, and what he learned impressed him. The ETSU team has gone from a club-level squad to a conference champion and NCAA tournament qualifier in four short years. Just as important, in Coulter’s eyes, was Calabrese’s history of working with goalkeepers. The ETSU coach is a former keeper himself and has coached goalies at very high levels.
“As a goalkeeper, if anyone’s going to help me get to the next level, it would be Scott Calabrese,” Coulter said. “It didn’t take a whole lot to get me out here. Once I came and saw the facilities we have ... to compare it to some of the other programs I have seen, nowhere has what we have. We’re blessed to have it.”
One he got to Johnson City last spring, Coulter began to seize the starting job, quite an accomplishment considering last year’s two keepers are still on the roster. Ronnie Hreha started 14 games last season while James Holt started six. Holt suffered a broken arm during the summer.
“Like all positions on our team, it comes down to work rate and performance,” Calabrese said. “Right now, Ryan is performing the best, so he is the one who has gotten the nod. That goes for any player on our team. They earn their opportunity to get into the game.”
Coulter will try to keep his early season clean sheet going this weekend with a couple of tough games in a tournament at Norfolk, Va. The Bucs take on Old Dominion tonight and William & Mary on Sunday. Both are ranked in the Top 25 of various polls. Old Dominion is as high as No. 20 while William & Mary is 14th.
“We have a big test this weekend,” Coulter said. “It will show us where we are as a program.”
Coulter’s father, Phil, is a famed musician. As a piano player and composer, Phil Coulter has had 23 platinum and 39 gold records. He and a partner wrote “Saturday Night,” the Bay City Rollers’ No. 1 hit from the 1970s. He also wrote “My Boy,” recorded by Elvis Presley.
He was nominated for a Grammy and wrote “Ireland’s Call,” the anthem of the Irish rugby team.
Most recently, Phil Coulter was part of Celtic Thunder, an internationally famous stage production that spawned one of the top-selling CDs in the world. Coulter wrote many of the songs. Celtic Thunder performed at the White House.
“I like music, but I’ve never been forced into anything,” Ryan Coulter said. “I have a guitar but I haven’t played it in a year.”
Could there be an anthem in the works should ETSU continue its success on the field?
“We’ll see how the season goes,” Coulter says with a laugh.
That would be music to Bucs’ fans ears.