North Medford goalkeeper Jace Snyder was no mystery heading into his final season with the Black Tornado.

North Medford goalkeeper Jace Snyder was no mystery heading into his final season with the Black Tornado.

And there was ample pressure on the 6-foot-5 senior as well.

After all, one opposing Southwest Conference coach proclaimed Snyder, "the best keeper in the league" before the season even started.

His own coach considers him the "top one or two (goalkeepers)" he's seen in his 10 years with the program.

"Coming in, it was like having a target on my back," Snyder says. "The expectations were set really high."

But Snyder has constantly met those expectations this year and has continued the lineage of outstanding North Medford keepers — from the early 90s with Geoff Nelson, who later starred at George Fox University, to Chris Berringer, later a standout for Seattle Pacific University and second-team all-conference performer Lee Seeley, whom Snyder split time with in 2006.

Snyder has 20 saves this season, six in critical points of games, and has a 0.88 goals against average per game to go along with three shutouts.

He's helped the Black Tornado (7-4-2, 5-3-1 SWC) secure a playoff spot and North could reach as high as second in the conference with a victory today against Grants Pass.

Much of the Black Tornado's success can be attributed to Snyder's ability to cope with the immense pressure placed upon him.

"The most positive guy I've ever met," North midfielder Tony Barbieri says of Snyder. "I've never seen him downing anybody. He's always encouraging people on the field, trying to be the best leader he can be."

Added North coach Matt Soper: "He deals with pressure really well. He's actually a little too laid back. Sometimes we have to fire him up for a game or practice. But if a ball does get behind him, he doesn't take it really hard. He's easy to get right back into the game."

That's been evident multiple times in Snyder's career, as has his dazzling array of highlight-reel saves.

He made two saves Soper called "outstanding" on point-blank shots that helped North to a 3-0 victory over rival South Medford last week.

"He came off the field and it was like something he expected to do," Soper says. "He expects to go out there and battle every game."

Snyder had four total saves in the victory over the Panthers. He managed three quality saves in a 3-1 victory over conference-champion South Eugene.

Barbieri's got his own unforgettable memory of Snyder.

During a club-team game in Portland, Barbieri recalls, Snyder snagged the ball off a corner kick by reaching over and in front of a player ready to head the ball. Snyder also managed to spin away from the player while plucking the ball out of the air.

"It was the sweetest thing I've ever seen," Barbieri says. "He's just a natural keeper. You can tell in practice. He'll do anything to get that ball. He's just making Superman dives and he'll bring it in one handed. He's one of a kind.

"Jace means a lot to this team. Throughout the years, he has been underrated in my opinion. He's finally getting the recognition I think he deserves."

Snyder admits he has grown into the position as a vocal leader and benefited by splitting time last season with Seeley.

He's also, at a wiry 6-foot-5, focused on increasing his flexibility and aggressiveness.

But he says what sets him apart is his work ethic, coachability and his relationship with his teammates.

"With the camaraderie we have out here, I don't want to let anybody down," Snyder says. "That's a big deal to me."

Even before Snyder was old enough to join a team, he can recall his passion for goalkeeping.

His brother Seth, two years older than Jace, joined a team and was a striker. As practice, Seth would take Jace in the backyard, tell him to stand up against the fence and stop everything that came his way.

"He didn't really hold back at all," Jace says of his brother. "But that's kind of where it started, just us two playing around, and I liked it a lot."

So much so that his soccer journey may continue at the next level.

His standout season has led to interest from multiple schools, including the University of Wisconsin, the University of Portland and UC Santa Barbara.

"I think he has great potential at the next level," Soper says.

Add a few more believers to the Jace Snyder bandwagon.

Reach reporter Luke Andrews at 776-4469 or e-mail landrews@mailtribune.com