The bigger Phallon Tullis-Joyce gets, the smaller the goal becomes.
"I grew about three inches since the end of last season," she said.
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The last thing strikers wanted to hear is that Tullis-Joyce, the goalkeeper on Longwood who is bound for the University of Miami, had a growth spurt in the offseason. Reason being, she was already making the 8-foot high and 24-foot wide goal seem small last season. Now that she has reached the 6-foot mark, her range has expanded and space has become even more limited.
It's difficult to chip over her, she reaches upper corners quickly, and she sees over crowds on corner kicks. Factor in her expansive 74-inch wingspan and impressive vertical jump and the goal starts to look more and more like a closing window.
"You could coach 1,000 years and not have a kid like this," Longwood coach Austin Manghan said. "She has the mind-set of 'I'm not going to give up any goals today.' And she usually doesn't."
The better Tullis-Joyce gets, the smaller the goal becomes.
"I've improved my technique incredibly this past year," she said.
She has enhanced her set position and quickened her reload time following shot attempts.
Judge her on statistics alone and you'll rush to an inaccurate judgment. Longwood won only four games last season and Tullis-Joyce allowed a dozen goals and recorded only three shutouts. Sure, you'll find goalkeepers with better numbers. But it will be hard to find ones with better skill.
Not seen in those statistics are her acrobatics that keep the Lions in games. There are the diving stops where she seemingly floats parallel to the ground. Or her patented extension dives where she punches the ball over the crossbar.
On one save last season, she pinned the ball up against the crossbar with her right hand and, while still in the air, retrieved it with her left hand and carried it to safety.
"Teams will be ripping shots off and she'll be flying through the air," Manghan said. "Other coaches hate seeing her get off the bus."
The smarter Tullis-Joyce gets, the smaller the goal becomes.
"I'm always watching others and studying them, trying to see what I can learn," she said.
As the top studentin her class, according to Manghan, her ability to absorb information comes as naturally as her ability to keep a soccer ball in front of her.
Manghan says that Tullis-Joyce has such a thorough understanding of every aspect of the game that it's like having a coach in the box. She's constantly directing traffic, ordering her defenders to their marks.
"She helps us all over the field," said senior defender Natalie Ballato, who along with Stephanie Surrusco will anchor Longwood's defense. "She yells at us in a good way. I feel so comfortable playing in front of her."
The Lions can certainly take comfort in the fact that their last line of defense is a goalkeeper with the perfect blend of size, skill and smarts.
"If the keeper has confidence then the whole team prospers from that," Tullis-Joyce said. "And right now, I feel more confident than ever."
The goal just became a little smaller.