Britt Eckerstrom changed the way Jets coach Craig Deans looks at goalkeepers when she helped the W-League side make the finals last season for the first time since 2009.
Deans, and Eckerstrom herself, now expect the Portland Thorns shot-stopper to be even better this season.
The 25-year-old has returned for a second W-League campaign at Newcastle and was officially announced as a recruit on Wednesday, before she trained with the squad for the first time.
Eckerstrom was a key retention target for Deans after her debut season. She took over in goals from countrywomen Katelyn Rowland and Kelsey Wys, who were at the jets in 2016-17.
“Britt is super athletic and I think she’s changed my thinking on what a goalkeeper has to be,” Deans said.
“In the past it was always the biggest kid was the goalkeeper, but she’s not the biggest player in our team by a long way, but as far as ability and athleticism goes, she would be in the top two.”
He expected Eckerstrom to improve again after a strong NWSL campaign with Portland. After not starting in 2017, Eckerstrom played 10 times for the competition runners-up this year.
The Maryland native was excited to be back and believed the experience of playing in Newcastle last season would help her perform even better this summer.
“I’ve had some games this season with Portland and no matter what, every year you’re making growth and making improvements on your game,” Eckerstrom said.
“On top of last year’s W-League season, and getting a lot of games and experience there, I’m looking forward to this season bring all of that that I’ve learned and putting that all together.”
She said playing at Newcastle was a key to success at Portland last season.
“I was in really good form last year coming into pre-season for Portland,” she said.
“People hadn’t played, or they’d be playing pick-up and where they can for different clubs, but having that regular practice and game schedule flow going into NWSL was really helpful.”
“I had a great experience last year [in Newcastle].
“I didn’t know exactly where I was going to end up at the end of last season, but we finished this NWSL season and I wanted to give it another go and experience this again, what Newcastle had to offer.
“We ended on a pretty good high last year so I’m looking forward to start where we ended off last year.”
Deans was expecting big things from Eckerstrom.
“Britt is another year more experienced,” he said.
“Last year was the first time she’d played regularly for a couple of years and she went back home and played a few games, which she didn’t manage to do last year, so she comes back with some more experience and she’s going to want to go home after our season and want to get back into the team there.
“Her performances will be better than they were last year and she will have a better understanding of how we play and how we want to play than last year.”
Eckerstrom will team up with a familiar face at the Jets in star addition Taylor Smith.
“We actually played on the same together in New York with the Flash,” Eckerstrom said.
“We were roommates before and now we’re roommates again, so it’s kind of a small world to end up again in Australia with her. It’s cool.”