Soccer brings solace for Fox Chapel junior goalkeeper Vanessa Blazer
Stopping a soccer ball kicked by an opposing forward or midfielder, despite having never seriously played goalkeeper before, isn't something that intimidates Fox Chapel junior Vanessa Blazer.
After all, compared to what Blazer has confronted away from the soccer field over the past nine months, there's not a shot that can be struck strong enough.
Vanessa's father, Ken, died suddenly from a brain aneurysm Jan. 29, an unimaginable tragedy yet one that hasn't stopped Vanessa Blazer from shining on the soccer field.
Not even close, actually.
Without goalkeeping experience, Blazer has made good on her coach's hunch that she'd make a good keeper — she's also a basketball player and a former field player in soccer — to the tune of nine shutouts and four goals allowed the entire season.
“To see her have this kind of success makes you feel good,” Foxes coach Erik Duffy said. “You can't help but root for her.”
Ken Blazer played football, and athletic genes didn't skip his oldest daughter. A part-time defender in 2012, Vanessa Blazer has thrived since transitioning to goalkeeper, something she hadn't done outside of recreation league soccer.
Vanessa Blazer admitted that focusing on her new position has been difficult, especially when she looks into the stands and doesn't see her dad, a regular at Vanessa's sporting events.
“It's been hard,” Blazer said. “Soccer and basketball are two of the things that he supported me the most in. So every time I play a game, I do it for him.”
Lauren Kelly said she and Blazer's other teammates try not to pry but always try to be there, eager to listen.
“I think it's just asking her if she's OK or being there when she wants to talk,” Kelly said. “Having a parent pass away is always a touchy subject, but she knows that we're there, which I think is good.”
The WPIAL playoffs begin this weekend, and that's somewhere Fox Chapel (16-1-1) will certainly be after running away with the Section 3-AAA title.
Kelly has a team-high 18 goals and 11 assists for Fox Chapel, which lost to Hampton, 2-0, in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs last season. Deena DeBaldo has 15 goals, Taylor Cohen 13 and Dixon Veltri 11.
Center back Janelle DeBaldo has anchored the back line. Perhaps even more important than her team-high 15 assists, DeBaldo has meshed well with Blazer.
“(Blazer) opens up the communication gap between the goal and the defenders, which was a piece that we weren't especially strong in last year,” Duffy said. “She has really solidified the position.”
Funny, because as much as Blazer has helped her team, playing soccer has been equally beneficial during her own grieving process.
“I think soccer has been a great distraction for Vanessa,” Kelly said. “Even though her dad used to be at a lot of her games, I think it's been great for her to catch a break from it a little bit.
“She's definitely stepped up and been a huge asset when we needed her.”