Several years ago at a Dallas Texans Women’s Soccer Club game, Coach Kat Conner saw potential in now sophomore goalkeeper Caitlyn Rinehart as she stepped up to fill in for her injured teammate.
The Dallas Texans Women’s Soccer Club was beating its opponent 2-0 when the team’s goalkeeper exited the game after suffering a season-ending thumb injury. Rinehart, the team’s starting outside midfielder, filled in for the goalkeeper. Her only prior goalkeeper experience dated back to her five-year stint with the Olympic Developmental Program.
“I saw a true natural gift, athleticism and the ability to read the game,” Conner said. “When I saw that I thought, ‘there’s a goalkeeper we can work on and train even more.’”
Rinehart transitioned back to outside midfielder the following club season while also leading the Legacy High School Lady Broncos in goals for three consecutive seasons as a center midfielder.
Conner offered Rinehart a roster spot after her senior year. Rinehart declined because she did not want to play as a goalkeeper.
The Mansfield native mulled over four offers, including three to play as an outside midfielder. The Naval Academy, Northeastern Oklahoma State and Midwestern State, a Division II program, were in contention until Rinehart discussed the decision with her parents and decided on Texas State due to its close proximity to her family.
Sitting behind junior goalkeeper Natalie Gardini, Rinehart appeared in five of 22 games her freshman year.
Rinehart, accustomed to being the primary offensive threat, said she struggled to adapt to her role.
“I never got used to it,” Rinehart said. “I just learned to tolerate it. I was a little discouraged and disappointed. But I realized that if I work harder at practice and put all my effort into soccer, then something good will come out of it—whether it be a starting job or getting stronger as a person.”
Rinehart earned 45 minutes of playing time in the third game this season, a 5-0 victory over Prairie View A&M Aug. 30. Gardini started the next 10 consecutive games, while Rinehart watched from the sidelines.
She set up a one-on-one conversation with Conner to define her role going forward.
“I’m not an upperclassman,” Rinehart said. “I didn’t want to go in there seeming like I was trying to one-up somebody else or say that I was better than anybody. I just knew what I deserved, and I wanted to see what Coach Conner was thinking.”
Rinehart replaced Gardini after Louisiana-Lafayette freshman midfielder Yazmin Montoya scored three goals in the first 30 minutes. Rinehart allowed two additional goals in the second half, including Montoya’s fourth, in a 5-2 loss Oct. 18.
Rinehart started the next two consecutive matches against Louisiana-Monroe and Arkansas-Little Rock. She faced 33 shots, allowing two goals.
“She doesn’t come with any preconceived notion,” Conner said. “She just listens and applies the teaching the best she can, and she keeps making improvements. That’s an advantage of not being trained as a goalkeeper before.”
In addition to Rinehart’s foot speed developing as a midfielder, Conner said she has improved in the external facet of goalkeeping, which includes breaking down the opponent’s offensive attack.
“It’s almost like twin telepathy,” said sophomore defender Kristen Champion. “You can just know if you can trust someone, and I get that feeling with her. She’s very decisive, and a defender likes to see that because she knows what she’s doing.”
Rinehart has bested Gardini in saves per game and save percentage this season. Conner will soon name the starting goalkeeper for Texas State’s first-round Sun Belt Conference tournament match against Troy depending on practice performance.
“It’s only going to make her better, because she has to deal with the pressure and stress of a single elimination game,” Conner said. “When you get more experience in that realm, you’re going to see a growth in her maturation as a person and as a player. I really think you’re going to see Caitlyn come on strong in the postseason and next spring.”