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Beyond the Light: Olivia Duray and Blythe Braun

Beyond the riveting goals, powerful tackles and excellent saves that we have seen at Spartan Athletic Park this season, these athletes have their own stories away from the stadium lights.

This week we dive into the stories of the Light’s foundation in the back, and the spark that ignites the attack. 

Finding your spot: Blythe Braun

River Light goalkeeper Blythe Braun is no stranger to new environments.

As a junior, the keeper has been behind the sticks for two different college teams, working her craft in Iowa and Florida and is now gearing up to take her talents to New York. 

Despite struggling to break into a strong Iowa side as a freshman, a change of scenery showed what the Downers Grove native had up her gloves. After two seasons at FAU, Braun defended the Owls goal in 14 games, registering 30 saves while keeping a 0.94 goal-against-average. 

While it’s common to quantify a goalkeeper's impact by looking at saves and games played, the work being done when not making acrobatic saves is sometimes overlooked. Apart from guarding the near post and closing down an oncoming opponent, goalkeepers are vocal leaders, commanding their backline like the captain of a towering vessel. 

But what happens when you enter a new environment in such a vocal position? Braun knows quite a bit about that.

“I do feel like with being in such a vocal position, you do need to step on the field and be a type of leader,” Braun said. “But as you come into these environments you also don’t want to step on any toes because you do realize that you’re coming into someone else’s environment and you have to adjust and find your spot in it.” 

Braun has learned how to adapt and let her pervious experiences guide her through different set-ups.

“You have to learn what they have already established, learn what the team is looking for, as well as how they play and how you can help them best,” Braun said.

Coming back home to play for River Light this summer, Braun faced a similar situation. 

Almost like a national team set-up, players from different collegiate teams from all over the U.S. have three months to learn and grow. While not an easy task, Brauns previous experiences have made it a smooth transition. 

“Each team has offered me so much in terms of being around so many amazing talented players,” Braun said. “Learning different play-styles, how to adapt to different defenses, how to adapt to different coaches' mentalities and what they are looking for.” 

With playoffs on the horizon, the Lights will have experience guarding the posts and someone to steer the ship through the turbulence that is post-season play. 

Taking command: Olivia Duray

Unlike Braun, Olivia Duray is still somewhat new to collegiate soccer, joining the University of Pittsburgh last year as a freshman. In her first year with Pitt, her team made a deep run in the NCAA tournament, reaching the elite eight after defeating Arkansas. 

On one of the best soccer teams in the nation with seniors, fifth years and even a Nigerian World Cup player, breaking into a squad like this can be a challenge. 

“It’s hard, a lot of us that come into these programs come in being the star of our team (High School),” Duray said. “It’s been cool, hard but cool.” 

Making four appearances in her debut season, Duray quickly learned about the speed and intensity of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“The speed of play is constant, you don’t have much time to take more than one or two touches,” Duray said. “Coming from a club environment where I had a lot of freedom to do what I wanted, I obviously learned that you have to get the ball moving quickly off your feet.”

Despite the sparseness of minutes, Duray made her time count during her first year with the Panthers. 

“We’re watching them play against the big dogs like UNC and Florida State, you see how much those seniors and fifth years have changed the program, and how hard they have worked to build something,” Duray said. 
“They’re kind of teaching us what it takes to get there because you don’t realize how much you do have to work collectively as a team to get to that point,” Duray added. 

This summer with River Light, Duray has used her time wisely, becoming an integral part of head coach Charlie Latshaw's system. 

“The biggest thing for River Light that I talked about with my coaches was just like ‘I need to play’ because how do you get better at soccer when you’re not playing for so long,” Duray said. 

Having played as an attacking midfielder throughout her early development, Latshaw and his staff challenged the Woodridge native to adopt a more vocal role.

“I’m being converted to the six role, and for that on our team it's a very commanding role so I think for River Light having that role and trying to command people on the field and just getting the ball moving,” Duray said. 

With the collegiate soccer season starting soon, Duray will have another chance to continue to chip at a spot on the Panthers team. 

“After this year a lot of our squad is gone, we’re a very senior-based squad so those final seniors will be going and it’s going to be my class,” Duray said. “So I’m looking to get that experience so that our class can go higher.” 
“I think this season [with River Light] has been super helpful in getting my confidence back and being an individual and gaining a louder voice, and I think that’s what I needed," Duray added. 

Listen to the full conversation with Braun and Duray on the Igniting the Lamp Podcast, located on River Lights official YouTube channel or via the link below!


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