Growing up 25 minutes away from Lehigh, Erica Steele always knew she wanted to attend the university. However, she did not know if her athletic career could continue in college.
The sophomore walk-on for the field hockey team just won Patriot League Defensive Player of the Week after scoring the first goal against Bryant University in a 3-1 win.
Steele has flourished for the Mountain Hawks by helping to anchor its defense.
After quitting softball in fifth grade, Steele was searching for a new sport and decided to pursue field hockey because a family member was the high school coach.
In high school that decision paid off. Steele was a four-year varsity player, three-year starter, and two-time captain at Parkland High School in Allentown.
Additionally, Steele was named to the EPC second team, an All-Star Pennsylvania Field Hockey Coaches Association honorable mention honoree and AAA All-State honorable mention.
During her sophomore year of high school, Steele decided to pursue a collegiate athletic career. She attended camps and clinics at Lehigh and said she knew her talent level was high enough to compete with the competition.
When Steele reached out to the Lehigh coaches to gauge her chances of playing, they told her she would have to try out as a walk-on player.
However, due to COVID-19 regulations, tryouts for walk-on players were not permitted throughout fall of 2020.
“At the time things were really up in the air and I was super nervous as to what my chances and my opportunities were going to be,” Steele said.
Once tryouts were allowed, Steele made the team and had a strong freshman year. She started one game and played in two more. At the end of the season, Steele won the team’s Most Improved Player Award.
“That is not something we typically see in our program,” assistant coach Taylor Dyer said. “We usually don’t have a lot of walk-on players make it through the tryout process and stay so committed to their development that they are able to be competitive for a starting position for a significant time.”
Dyer said having Steele located in Pennsylvania allowed the staff to work with her through the recruitment process.
Going into her sophomore year, Steele said she put a lot of effort into the summer running program given to the team by the coaching staff. Steele was able to stay at a high fitness level with her increased lifting schedule, which helped her transition into the fall season.
Steele scored her first goal against Bryant University from the tipping position, an unconventional spot for a defender to be.
“It was not something that we had practiced or that she was necessarily prepared for going into the game,” Dyer said. “But again, I feel like she was able to step into that role with a lot of confidence.”
Steele said her goal was a culmination of the hard work she has put into her game since high school.
Junior Sarah Bonthuis said Steele has quickly become one of her favorite teammates and best friends at Lehigh, even though she didn’t meet Steele until last January.
“I’ve only known her for a couple of months,” Bonthuis said. “But getting to know her has been so great. The way she’s been playing this season has improved so much from last season.”
Steele has time ahead of her in 2021 to solidify her role as a starter.
“We couldn’t be happier with all that we’ve seen from her. I think she’s proven that she still has a lot of growth left for her remaining time at Lehigh,” Dyer said.
Steele and Lehigh look to continue their success when they play Colgate on Sept. 25 in Hamilton, New York.