Despite earning multiple league accolades with Lehigh softball, Lisa Van Ackeren, ‘09, has become even more successful in her coaching career as she celebrates her eighth year as head coach of Princeton University’s softball program.
The New Jersey native was a key player during her years at Lehigh, graduating with Patriot League records, including games pitched (141), most strikeouts in a career (928) and shutouts (31).
Van Ackeren is also the only player in Patriot League history to win four consecutive Patriot League Pitcher of the Year awards.
She was inducted into Lehigh’s Hall of Fame in fall 2019.
Fran Troyan, who has been the Mountain Hawks head coach for 25 years, said he always loved watching Van Ackeren play.
“Lisa (Van Ackeren) was distinctive because she always did the right thing, always put the team’s interests ahead of hers and was able to exercise true leadership with a servant-leader approach that was as disarming as it was effective,” Troyan said.
Even with her successful career playing softball, Van Ackeren never seriously thought about it as a career path until Troyan mentioned it one day at practice.
“He asked me about coaching, and my immediate reaction was no, but I think he knew that could be my path before I had even considered it,” Van Ackeren said.
Despite her initial opposition, Van Ackeren went on to become assistant coach for the University of Pennsylvania’s softball program, before applying for the head coaching position at Princeton in 2013.
Since becoming head coach for the Tigers, Van Ackeren has been awarded two Ivy League Coach of the Year Awards — first in 2016 after making it to the NCAA tournament and again in 2017 after leading her team to win the Ivy League Championship Series.
Van Ackeren has secured a 138-177 record during her time with the Tigers and already has the third-most wins as a coach in Princeton softball history.
“I think I have been successful as a coach because there are always higher goals to reach,” Van Ackeren said. “The way I see it, there are always goals that are bigger and brighter. That is how I treated my career as a player, and that is exactly how we do things at Princeton as well.”
Sophomore Ali Blanchard, a current pitcher for Princeton University, said she is grateful to play under a coach that is not only passionate about the game, but is someone she can trust.
“(Van Ackeren) always had confidence in me that I did not have in myself,” Blanchard said. “Freshman year, I was not performing well and had gotten really down on myself. Coach (Van Ackeren) had a long talk with me about my capabilities as a player, and she put me right back in the next game. After that, I knew that the coaching staff and the team had my back in every situation.”
Blanchard said Van Ackeren is devoted to helping the team develop as players on and off the field by training her players to be prepared for any situation and holding each other to a high standard.
As she reflected on her college career, Van Ackeren said Lehigh is still “one of her favorite places in the world.”
She said the Lehigh community taught her many life lessons, the biggest being that relationships will always be more important than accomplishments.
“Coach Troyan once told me my freshman year that I could always call him no matter what and, to this day, I know that I can pick up the phone at any time of the day and he would be there for me,” Van Ackeren said.