By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — There is an intellectual side to being a goalkeeper.
Senior Claire Graves has that type of analytical mind as well as the physical attributes that have made her a four-year starter for the University of Iowa soccer team.
“I like to say goalkeeping is an intellectual position,” said Graves, a Noblesville, Indiana, native. “You have to think and read. You’re only called upon every 10-15 minutes, if that. You have to be mentally engaged to what might happen.
“My ability to think analytically is what gives me an edge, but sometimes it can bite me if I overthink, but most of the time, I have the ability to think ahead, and that helps.”
It has helped Graves etch her name in the Iowa record book as one of the most productive goalkeepers in school history. She began her senior season ranked in the top five in school history in career shutouts, victories, and saves. She is second in shutouts (17), third in wins (24), and fifth in saves (191).
“We call Claire ‘Steady Eddie’ behind the scenes,” said Iowa head coach Dave DiIanni. “There aren’t high highs, but there aren’t low lows. That can be important in that position where you want to know what you’re counting on.
“It’s a comfort having Claire in goal. She is a cerebral, calm influence on and off the field. She’s intelligent, so to have her in that position is helpful.”
Graves grew up watching her older brothers, Evan and Alex, compete on the soccer pitch. She was a goal scorer when she began at age 4, but following in her brother’s footsteps, she slid in goal for halves at a time by age 11. Two years later, she was a full-time goalkeeper.
The following year, Graves started playing high-level club soccer, but Indiana’s program fell apart. The solution was a commute to Ohio — a nearly three-hour drive, one-way.
“It was good because the girls were awesome, but it was a lot of time, leaving school at 2:30 p.m., and hopping in a car,” said Graves. “It was a lot of work that paid off and put me in the best position to be here, but it was a lot for a 15-year-old.”
Graves was a three-time all-state selection at Noblesville High School, leading her team to a state championship as a senior. She finished her career with a 42-16-10 record before making the move to Iowa City.
“I knew I wanted to play in the Big Ten, growing up in Indiana with Indiana University and Purdue nearby,” said Graves. “Both of my brothers went to IU and Purdue, and I didn’t want to do that. When I started with the recruiting process, I tried to be open. I visited schools in Texas and Pittsburgh, but the Big Ten felt like home.”
The Hawkeyes had the nationally renowned University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics as a recruiting tool.
“I knew I wanted to pursue medicine,” said Graves. “That’s a big reason why I came here — the hospital and how awesome the opportunity is.”
Following a freshman season where Graves started every contest, won eight games, and made 73 saves, she found her way to UIHC. She has volunteered at the hospital since.
Graves started in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit, assisting the nursing staff and she has moved into a role in the cardiovascular genetics lab. She started by running errands, but it has evolved into job shadowing and more.
“I got to watch two tracheotomies and post-op scopes,” said Graves. “That was interesting as a sophomore in college. Now I am studying sudden cardiac death in Dr. (Barry) London’s lab. I do a variety of things from simple tasks, like doing dishes, to performing EKGs on mice.
“The hospital has provided me an awesome opportunity.”
Graves is in the process of applying to medical schools across the country. She has sent in applications to schools in Manhattan (New York), Boston, Chicago, and she plans to apply to Iowa, Indiana, and schools in Ohio. When her senior season began in August, her future was put on the side burner, as she wants finish her Hawkeye career playing well into November.
“We have big goals, we want to play in the NCAA Tournament,” said Graves. “On a smaller scale, we crushed it at home last year (Iowa went 7-0-1 at the Iowa Soccer Complex), so we want to keep that streak alive and win more road games. If we start there, we will put ourselves into the Big Ten Tournament, and then there is no stopping us.”
Graves is confident because she and 11 of her senior classmates can fall back on their experience.
“I was so naïve coming (to college), not knowing what it takes to be successful in the Big Ten,” said Graves. “It’s being more aggressive, confident, using my feet more, and those aspects of the game have changed because I know what it takes.
“This experience has prepared me in the best way for this season and beyond. This is going to make me the best physician possible. It was a lot of learning, tough learning and tough love, but it was a lot of maturing and preparing me mentally for this final year.”