When she applied to college, sophomore Stephanie Brabender wasn’t even sure about playing a club sport. Now, she’s the backup goaltender for Lehigh’s varsity field hockey team.
In high school, Brabender bounced around from one sport to the next, but she was mostly interested in the social atmosphere of her teams. She was a cheerleader, gymnast and played volleyball for most of her life. During her senior year, Brabender decided to try out for her high school field hockey team just for fun.
Brabender said she was “bench captain” that year. Although she didn’t see much playing time, she said she always had a smile on her face and enjoyed being on the field hockey team.
“It was always important to me to be on a team,” Brabender said. “I like exercising with a big group. It’s motivating.”
When she got to Lehigh, Brabender felt like something was missing, so she got a bunch of friends together and joined the club field hockey team. It just so happened that the team needed a goalie. Brabender willingly took the position.
As second semester started, the varsity field hockey team found themselves short of a backup goalie due to a career-ending injury of then-first-year goaltender Emma Gromacki.
Coach Caitlin Dallmeyer was in a tough situation when she began the search for another goalie. Her first thought was to look at the field players and determine if any of them could make the switch, but it looked like the team was in need of a new player.
Members of the team were encouraged to ask around and Brabender’s name came up a few times, so the coaching staff invited her in to meet them and the rest of the team.
“Steph was so laid back and relaxed during the first meeting, we perceived that she didn’t know what she was getting herself into,” Dallmeyer said. “She had never been a collegiate athlete, so there were some concerns.”
To everyone’s surprise, Brabender would change the culture of the Lehigh field hockey team with her enthusiasm, motivation and positivity.
“She never showed any insecurities, she was always so courageous and ready to learn,” Dallmeyer said.
Brabender describes herself as the kind of girl who loves to try new things and will say yes to pretty much anything, which is why the decision to join the team was simple.
“When I called my mom and told her I was going to be a student-athlete she laughed,” Brabender said. “She couldn’t believe it.”
While there were people who questioned her abilities as a goaltender and collegiate athlete, Brabender has worked hard so far to prove those people wrong. Although she said her initial fitness test was rough, Brabender promised herself that she would put in extra hours for the team.
“The first day I got there we had a huge sprint workout,” Brabender said. “I couldn’t keep up at all.”
Dallmeyer expected Brabender to come back in the fall having strengthened her abilities. However, she never anticipated that Brabender would pass her fitness test so soon.
“It was surprising for us because she had only been introduced to it four months ago,” Dallmeyer said.
When the team reunited in August, Brabender came ready to support her teammates and do whatever was asked of her. She had trained over the summer, running on the track every day. She said she felt confident and prepared to be part of the team.
“She doesn’t see much playing time, but (Brabender) has taken the lead and makes sure every player is putting in the work and keeping them motivated to stay in shape,” Dallmeyer said.
Junior starting goaltender Paige Innarella spends at least 30 minutes of each practice working with Brabender.
While Brabender may not have gone through the typical recruiting process, her presence on the team is valued just as much as her teammates who have been there since the start.
“She’s a consistently great person, makes everyone laugh and smile,” Innarella said. “Everyone (on the team) loves her.”