September 16, 2020

After 2 Years as Reserve Goalie for PU Women’s Soccer, PDS Grad Barbara Now Waiting to Vie for Starting Spot

GRACE UNDER PRESSURE: Grace Barbara boots the ball upfield in a game last fall during her sophomore season for the Princeton University women’s soccer team. After assuming a reserve role in her first two years for the Tigers, former Princeton Day School standout Barbara was poised to battle for a starting spot this fall. But with the Ivy League canceling the 2020 fall season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Barbara is going to have wait a little longer for her shot to be a starter. (Photo provided courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

By Bill Alden

Grace Barbara is learning a lot about patience during her career with the Princeton University women’s soccer team.

After playing just about every minute during her three seasons for the Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team as a star goalie, Barbara played in just two games for a half each in her first college season in 2018 and then got into two contests last fall, playing a full game in one appearance and a half in the other.

With star goalie Natalie Grossi, the Ivy League career leader in shutouts, having graduated this past June, Barbara was poised to battle for the starting role as a junior.

But with the Ivy League canceling the 2020 fall season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Barbara is going to have wait a little longer for her shot to take charge in goal.

“Obviously I was very disappointed, but I completely understand that the University believes that is best and the Ivy League does as a collective group,” said Barbara, an ecology and evolutionary biology major who is hoping to go to medical school and took a class on pandemics this spring.

“At the end of the day, the Princeton University women’s soccer team will be fully prepared to step back on the field when given the opportunity. We will not ever take our moments on the field for granted. Whether we have ever done it before, we will never do it again. It is not a question. We realize how special and finite the time that we have together is.”

Barbara experienced some tough moments in her freshman year as she adjusted to the college game.

“The speed of play is so fast in college,” said Barbara, who completed a shutout by playing the second half at Rider on September 6 in her college debut and then got the win by playing the first half in a shutout against Bucknell in early October.

“I did come from a club team (Player Development Academy) that highly prepared me for that. But really once you are in the environment, it is completely immersive and it can get difficult to handle both the academics and the athletics at the same time. Freshman year was getting acclimated to it. I was a player who played almost every minute in club and in high school, and it is very difficult for people to realize until they are at the collegiate level that not everyone is going to start and not everyone is going to play.”

Learning from those ups and downs, Barbara took some major steps forward after the end of the fall campaign.

“The spring is an incredible developmental period that not a lot of people recognize; the offseason is really where players can be themselves and make those strides,” said Barbara.

“I think that my freshman spring truly set me up for being the more comfortable player and execute more on the field in my sophomore season, which I was incredibly proud about; I would say that sophomore year was really crushing it, getting into it a lot more and ensuring that the version of myself stepping on the field every single day is really the version of myself that I have worked towards.”

Showing the best version of herself last fall, Barbara posted a shutout against Lehigh on October 15 in the first complete game of her college career.

“I remember just before that game that I was so excited because I was going to be playing in front of my family and my friends,” said Barbara, who made five saves as Princeton defeated the Mountain Hawks 4-0.

“I was completely honored, especially playing against some of my club teammates. That was my first game in Myslik Field; it was an amazing opportunity I will never forget. There is something about my personality that when I step onto the field, I come to this calm, it really settles me. I just remember being laser-focused the entire time and just so proud to be on the field with one of our freshmen, Grace Sherman, getting one of her clutch goals of the season and being able to guide our team to that victory. It was an unparalleled experience.”

Reflecting on her sophomore season overall, Barbara was proud of the progress she made as player and a leader.

“My freshman year was really big on [asking] what kind of player do I want to be, what kind of person do I want to be, and what are my goals,” explained Barbara, who played the second half in Princeton’s 1-0 win over Drexel on October 30.

“My sophomore year was much more stepping into those shoes, how can I be a leader on this team as an underclassman, how can I ensure that the team trusts me, that the team is listening to me, that my voice was heard and that I help guide us to where we want to be. The goalkeeper is a very strong position.”

When the Princeton students were sent home in the spring semester due to the pandemic, Barbara and her teammates kept in contact virtually, having some heart-to-heart conversations.

“We had a unique opportunity in which we can all talk with each other without the distractions of COVID and school,” said Barbara, a native of Yardley, Pa., whose family has relocated to South Florida.

“At the end of the day, it really gave us a mentality and reminded us that sports can be over in the blink of an eye, whether it is from an injury or something as crazy as a pandemic. So living every moment on the field and enjoying every moment and making sure that we don’t waste our time on unnecessary drama and things like that is important.”

Being creative, Barbara has made sure to keep up her conditioning while away from school.

“I have been in Florida since March so it was certainly tough,” said Barbara.

“As soon as this happened, I pulled everything together that I could for a home gym to keep a weightlifting regimen and trying to do all of that I could. I set things up as a goalkeeper. I used a wall, a ball and a pair of cleats and just went to it. I did as much as I could under the circumstances.”

Over the summer, Barbara did get some special training partners for a few weeks.

“I actually had Alexandra ‘Aza’ Keohan and Gabi Juarez both come down to South Florida to spend some time with me,” said Barbara, referring to her two teammates and fellow juniors.

“We were going on runs, we were going to the fields every day because that was the time that we were about to find out about the fall. We just wanted to keep working and to use it as a distraction as well. It is obviously a very stressful time for us and for a lot of people.”

While it is unclear when Princeton will get on the field again as the league is considering moving fall sports to the spring of 2021, Barbara will be ready to shine whenever her time comes.

“I am certainly ready and fully eager to step into the role as a starting goalkeeper if given the opportunity,” said Barbara.

“All of my coaches have said that I am commanding. You can be as commanding as you want but you need to have your voice turn into action. That is what I believe I have been able to cultivate, and I believe that the team truly listens and they trust me as I do them. It is critically important for your team to have that structure and that trust built around your back line and your goalkeeper. We are all on this common, collective quest and we are going to do great things when given the opportunity.”