Goalie back for opener

After 10 months of dealing with injury, Breck Bankester will finally get a chance to be where she feels most comfortable. In USF’s first game of the season against Stetson, she’ll be between the goal posts.

Bankester, a senior, played every second in goal a year ago. She was Conference USA’s Co-defensive Player of the Year in a season where she had a league-leading 107 saves. She also ranked among the league leaders with four shutouts. This season, she is a pre-season All Conference selection.

But the lengthy layoff casts doubts as to whether she can be as effective as she was last year.

Bankester last played a soccer game at the C-USA tournament Nov. 5, 2003.

As soon as the tournament was over, Bankester went to work rehabbing a herniated disc in her back four times a week at the new athletic facility.

Playing well her senior year means a lot to her. Just playing at all has her excited.

“The first time I put on my jersey and walked onto the field … oh man, it was a great feeling,” she said. “It feels good to be back. I didn’t even really start training at keeper until preseason, really.”

Three weeks of preseason is all Bankester has had to prepare for the upcoming season, a season where she knows she may have to play through pain.

“Some people stop playing because (back injury) is a lot to deal with,” she said. “There will be bad days and there will be good days. It’s okay now that I really haven’t had a bad day. I just need to progress because I’m sure that I’ll be in pain.”

But she said she is prepared to endure some pain because this is her last year of eligibility.

She has other plans when the ride is over, like getting her degree.

“My last game for USF is my last game,” she said. “If I wasn’t hurt it would be a different story.”

The Bulls are not without a backup plan. Goalkeeper Casey Garret transferred from South Alabama and is ready to fill in if Bankester cannot play.

Coach Logan Fleck said he would look to see how Bankester is doing as the game progresses. The game will be at 7:30 at the USF soccer stadium.

“Breck is going to be in that goal on Saturday,” Fleck said. “And she needs to be. Now, whether she plays the whole game or half is another thing. We want to try to get her as many minutes as possible.”

USF returns every player in a backfield that was effective in 2003. The “No-Goal Patrol,” as they refer to themselves, made up of Stacci Sastre, Tara Escribano and Bankester, was a big reason the 2003 team had so much success.

And the team has improved offensively, according to midfielder Katie Reed.

“We’re finally getting an offense,” Reed said. “We’re having people shooting. We’re running off each other. I think we’re so much better than we were last year.”

Some new faces filling in are also part of the reason Reed envisions improvement.

“This year we actually have people off the bench that actually make a difference coming on the field,” she said.

In a preseason coach’s poll, USF was picked to finish 10th after finishing fourth in 2003.