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Sophomore Goalkeeper Sabien Paumen defends the goal as Towson makes an attempted shot during a game on Sept. 19. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

 For two full seasons, the goalkeeper position was among the most stable for Penn field hockey.

Ava Rosati, a former team captain and honorable mention All-Ivy goalie, spent two full seasons as the Quakers’ starter. Rosati not only provided stability to the position, but she also served as a formidable last line of defense. In 2018, Rosati totaled six shutouts and 62 saves. A year later, the then-senior led the team in minutes played with 1,007 and increased her saves total to 67, which included a career-high 12 against North Carolina.

Flash forward to 2021, and the Quakers’ goalkeeper situation could not look more different than it did two seasons ago. Rosati now works on Wall Street as a private equity analyst at Blackstone, a multibillion-dollar alternative investment firm, and in her place back at Penn is sophomore Sabien Paumen, a native of the Netherlands who, until this season, had never played a minute of collegiate field hockey.

Rosati’s departure also left the Red and Blue without any veteran goalies in the program. As a result, the goalie competition was wide open when Paumen and her counterparts started training this offseason.

“The two other goalkeepers, one of them is also a sophomore and the other one is a freshman,” Paumen said. “So, it’s not like there was anyone above me who had already played all the games for two years and who had so much more experience. We were all on the same level with that.”

Like the rest of the athletes in Penn’s Class of 2024, Paumen’s first practices with the team came last spring. While these spring practices were a good way for players to get reps, they were also largely modified to accommodate COVID-19 policies. For Penn field hockey, this meant practicing in two separate groups.

Although they were no substitute for in-season practices or games, these spring practices provided coaches a chance to get a first look at the Class of 2024, which included Paumen and her sophomore goalie counterpart Hayley Hayden. The practices also provided an opportunity for coaches to deliver feedback to the players as they began their offseason training in anticipation of the start of preseason in August.  

“Last semester, we had an individual meeting with our coaches at the end saying what we had to work on, what we were doing well, etc.,” Paumen said. “So, I tried to work on the things they were telling me. I also started going to the gym a lot, lifting weights a lot more over the summer than I used to before coming to Penn, and that gave me a lot of confidence."

Paumen’s offseason training helped her enter preseason ready to compete with Hayden and freshman goalkeeper Frederique Wollaert for the starting position. Although each goalie had their respective strengths, it was Paumen who ultimately secured the position. Reflecting on the competition, Paumen credits her offseason training in her gaining the confidence to succeed in the preseason.

“Over the summer, I worked really hard to get better and to get fit, and that paid off during preseason,” Paumen said. “I was happy that I got to play the first game, and that gave me a lot of confidence too, and it’s going really well now.”

Paumen’s confidence in her game has played a large part in her early success this season. Through the team’s first nine games, Paumen has totaled 42 saves and a .627 save percentage in 492 minutes on the field. The sophomore has also tallied shutouts against Villanova and Towson.

Her coaches have been impressed with her veteran approach to the goalkeeper position. Despite facing a host of nationally ranked opponents, some of whom have scored upwards of four goals, Paumen has remained poised in the cage, always focused on the next play.

“For Sabien, one of the things that really gives credit to her is [that], for a majority of the games, she just has really good confidence in herself,” goalkeeper coach Sydney Rhodes said. “She’s very level headed, so she doesn’t really get frantic as easily. If a goal does go in, there’s not much effect on her gameplay, which I think, especially for young goalies, is really hard sometimes.”

While Paumen has found success through intangible factors like her confidence and poise, she has also utilized her tangible, technical skills to make an early impact.

“I think Sabien’s strengths are her reaction time, her speed and agility, and her footwork to be able to get under the ball,” Rhodes said. “As you can see, in games and in season, she’s been able to make the easy saves as well as some really challenging saves at times.”

Although Paumen has had several impressive outings and has been able to remain poised in the face of in-game adversity, her season has not been without its growing pains. The goalkeeper position requires a lot of different skills working in tandem. A good goalie has mastered the fundamental aspects of playing the position, has learned how to communicate with the defensive unit and coordinate game plans, and has built a bank of success that can be drawn on for confidence.

With the Quakers more than halfway through their season, Paumen has been able to make progress in each of these facets of the game. One area in which she’s made the most progress is her ability to be aggressive in the cage.

“I’ve definitely seen her be more aggressive,” Rhodes said. “In the spring before, she was a little bit more reserved, and I think now playing those top-level teams, she’s learned that she has to be more aggressive. She has to be comfortable stepping out of her goal sometimes and pressuring a 1-on-1 play or a [2-versus-1] play [while also] making those critical saves on the baseline or in front of her.”

Replacing a player with Rosati’s talent and experience level is easier said than done. Goalies are the lifeblood of a team’s defensive unit, and it takes time to develop the skills necessary to play the position at a high level in the Ivy League.

This season, Sabien Paumen has been the one stepping into the gap left by Rosati. While the sophomore has had her share of ups and downs, she has been improving with each passing practice and game. She has shown that she’s here to stay and that Penn field hockey just might have its goalie of the future.