The legacy started with David Pastuna in 2012, moved on to John Riggs in 2013-14 and was taken over by Walter Romanow in 2015-16.
Thus, the question facing senior Austin Herbert entering the 2017 season was, could he be the latest in a series of great goalkeepers for the Robbinsville High boys’ soccer team?
The answer was resounding yes.
“It was a tough spot,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “We’ve had three goalies in a row recognized as all-conference. So I kind of challenged him to take that role, be part of that club with Pastuna, Riggs and Walter, and I think he did.”
Herbert knew all too well the talent that preceded him, as all three keepers came back to work with the team after they graduated.
“Yeah, there was some pressure,” the goalie said. “But it was my expectation that I thought I was able to do it. That’s what I expected of myself so that’s what I tried to do, and I think I did it. I was pretty happy. Dave, Walter and John set off the program pretty well, I think Eric (Schreier, JV goalie) will carry on with it. I’m pretty happy with my performance this year. I think I played well and stepped up when I needed to.”
Herbert played his best in some of Robbinsville’s biggest games, although they were both losses. He was outstanding against state finalist Princeton in a 2-1 regular-season setback, and played out of his mind in a shootout defeat to Trenton in the Mercer County Tournament. Against the Tornadoes, Robbinsville played most of the two overtimes down two men due to red cards, but Herbert made some spectacular saves to get it to penalty kicks, and also made some big PK saves.
‘I think it’s hard to really be competitive if you don’t have a guy you trust in goal to make a few saves in a game.’
Unfortunately, he suffered a concussion in the MCT consolation game against Notre Dame and had to sit out the Ravens’ 3-0 loss to Monmouth in the first round of the state tournament.
“We were a little bummed out he couldn’t play his final high school game in the states,” Fisher said. “I think it made a difference. Our JV goalie stepped up and did a really good job, but it’s tough to have the same mindset going into a game without your goalie whose played every single minute this year. We gave up an own goal on a corner kick, which could have been a communication type of thing, since they’re not familiar with each other as much back there.”
No one was hurt more than Herbert himself.
“I really wanted to play in that game,” said the goalie, who became concussed when he banged the back of his head on the post against ND. “I was confident our team would be able to win the first game, and I would come back for the second round. Unfortunately, we couldn’t. I was really looking forward to it, I would have really liked to play.”
While Notre Dame marked the end of his career (though he may play club soccer depending on what college he decides on), the beginning came in the Robbinsville Recreation League as a youth. He moved on to travel for the Robbinsville Revolution and decided to jump in the nets when the team needed a keeper.
“They’re were like, ‘Who wants to try out?’ and I just decided to,” Herbert said. “I was tall, I thought I fit the spot so I gave it a shot. I wasn’t the best field player and in the beginning, I wasn’t the best goalie because I really didn’t know anything. I wasn’t having the most fun at the beginning. But I kind of grew to love it more over the years when I got better.”
Herbert did not attend camps or clinics, but played year-round between high school and travel ball in order to improve his game. He was on the Ravens’ freshman team in ninth grade, and played JV as a sophomore and junior, although he practiced with the varsity.
“I think I saw the growth from sophomore to junior year,” Fisher said. “When he came in as a junior, I started to feel a lot more comfortable with the situation of Walter leaving and having Austin step in as a senior to be the main guy.”
The coach felt that confidence was the biggest factor. After shutting out Westampton Tech in the opener and playing well in a 2-1 loss to Lawrence in game two, Herbert was starting to feel he belonged.
“That’s really what the position is; it’s a confidence position and if you don’t play with confidence you’re gonna struggle,” Fisher said. “He just came into his own. He started to trust himself, trust his hands and what he could do out there. He’s a big kid. He’s got good size and can eat up any ball in the air in his box.”
Herbert felt his years on the JV were valuable learning tools, saying that, “I wasn’t thrown into the varsity and that really fast pace I was able to build up to a little more. And (JV) teams like Princeton and Hopewell were more of a step up, so that gave me a taste of things to come.”
Entering this season, Herbert had all the physical tools, but needed to be a little more mouthy. Goalies not only must stop shots, but organize the defense by calling out orders. With his quiet demeanor, that’s not a natural role for Herbert.
“I tell him, ‘I don’t need you to yell and scream paragraphs at people,’” Fisher said. “Just one, two, three words here and there will get the job done. He got a lot better this year at being able to bark out situations and tell guys what they should be doing in the box. That also comes with the confidence factor. When you’re confident, you’ve got no problem speaking up and giving direction.”
Herbert figured he didn’t need a lot of words to get his point across.
“I’m not the person to scream the whole entire game and just yell a bunch of stuff that doesn’t really make a difference,” he said. “But I said the stuff that mattered and tried to help my defense be more organized. In the beginning I was definitely a little more quiet. I became louder and I was able to control the defense a little more. I think it made a difference in our games.”
While the Ravens suffered a down year at 5-11-3, Herbert was not the issue as he had four shutouts and allowed just one goal in four other games. Robbinsville was either shut out or scored one goal in 15 games.
What success the team did have was due in part to Herbert, whom Fisher compared with Romanow when it came to his predecessors.
“I think it’s hard to really be competitive if you don’t have a guy you trust in goal to make a few saves in a game,” the coach said. “You’re not gonna go very far if your goalie doesn’t make those saves. Every good team is gonna give up some opportunities. Without having him back there it would have made it a lot more difficult for us to do what we needed to do this year.”