During a time when CSUN faces great pressure atop the Big West Conference points standings, one player shines through to fill the void left by the injury of their starting goalie, earlier this season, junior Cynthia Tafoya.
Sophomore Jovani McCaskill, 19, came through in the clutch this season on the tail of an injury that would prove to be a game changer in her career.
Forced into the spotlight as the Matadors hit the road for their first two matchups of this year’s Big West Conference against UCSB and Cal Poly, McCaskill proved her worth by helping lead the squad to dual victories, a feat not seen in the program history in 10 years.
“She got a great opportunity with Tafoya going down and she stepped up big time. We talk about opportunities and what you make of them, she got an opportunity and she’s making something of it,” said head coach Keith West.
With opportunity comes responsibility and McCaskill begins the transition into her new leadership role with command.
“I hear Jo Jo’s voice throughout the game reassuring everyone that it’s going to be okay and where to put the ball,” said sophomore forward Cynthia Sanchez.
“I’m so proud of her, she’s just a really hard worker and I’m glad that she’s out here representing our school.”
It’s not only CSUN coaches and teammates taking notice of McCaskill’s rise on such short notice. Following those dual opening victories the league announced her as the Big West Player of the Week Oct. 6, for the 9 saves she made in over 190 minutes of play, earning the Matadors 6 huge points in a very tight conference. McCaskill is the first CSUN athlete to earn the weekly honor from the Big West since 2012.
“?Having to step up in such a major way was definitely a serious game changer for me. I’ve had to learn how to focus in and stay in the game for 90 minutes and not let the simple mistakes get into my head,” said McCaskill.
Going into the team’s third Big West matchup against UC Riverside, pressure mounted to maintain the points lead and McCaskill again proved that she was more than just a replacement keeper. Earning her third shutout for the season and her career, McCaskill secured the Matador’s lead at 9 points in the conference with the confidence of a veteran.
Accolades aside, she explains that confidence in the net doesn’t come easy, especially when the clock is ticking on a crucial season in program history.
She recalled a time during the Missouri game when Tafoya went down unexpectedly and she had to start warming up but all she could think about was not throwing up.
Tafoya ended up being okay to finish the game, but the moment provided McCaskill with an experience about dealing with pressure.
“After that I told myself that if I were to ever get the chance to go in, I’d leave my nerves and throw up in the locker room and when I got the call up that’s exactly what happened,” said McCaskill.
After a personal struggle dealing with time on the bench earlier this season, McCaskill almost hung it up despite high hopes.
“Coming into camp this year I feel like I had more confidence, but when I didn’t get the start right away I basically lost it all and took my seat on the bench…,” said McCaskill about the start to her sophomore year of play.
“It wasn’t until I had a sit down with my coach, and she basically told me that this team has no room for a keeper who is satisfied at being second best, that I really began to prove that I wanted to be here.”
She’s done more than prove that she wants to be on the squad with 28 saves to her name and an inspiration she’s been driven by since a young age.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to play for a college team, my club team used to go to USD games all the time and seeing the way those girls played out there, I knew that’s what I wanted from my soccer career,” McCaskill said.
As her childhood dream to play soccer at a collegiate level comes to fruition, McCaskill looks past her athletic career to focus on her academic career as a kinesiology major.
“?School first, always school first, we may be athletes but our main goal is to get an education so that we can have a career when this is all over,” the goalkeeper said.
McCaskill said her and her teammates have a “Team First,” saying which means they make conscientious decisions about how their actions affect the team on and off the field.
“If that means you have to put soccer on pause so that you can get your grades together than that’s what you have to do so that you can stay eligible,” McCaskill said.
Keeping a sensible head on and off the field, McCaskill said she hopes the opportunity to play professionally arises but she realizes the importance of her academic life for future goals.
Focusing on the now, all eyes remain on McCaskill as she leads the Matadors with goals set high for their historic climb through the Big West Conference.
“My team goal for the season is that we come away with the Big West Champions title,” McCaskill said. “A more personal goal I have is to shutout every team we come in contact with here in conference.”