With less than one minute remaining in the game, Erin Keefe, the leader of the Lehigh women’s soccer team’s defense, found herself at the top of the box with the ball rolling her way against St. John’s.
Keefe, a graduate student in her last year on the team, didn’t hesitate, kicking the ball over the goalkeeper’s head to score the first goal of her career on Sept. 11.
“I’m one of the last defenders, so I’m usually not used to getting up there,” Keefe said. “But there was less than a minute and it was just everyone giving everything you’ve got. We do a lot of reps at practice on corner kicks, so I think it finally paid off. I was just lucky enough to get the last touch … that was obviously a really cool feeling.”
The women’s soccer defense allowed just four shots on goal in that game and left St. John’s scoreless.
“Great players find ways to influence the game,” coach Lauren Calabrese said. “Erin (Keefe) has played on the back line all of her career. Scoring a goal represents the vision we have for all of our players: to become the best versions of themselves and to play with passion and conviction.”
Keefe was awarded Patriot League Defensive Player of the Week for her performance, her second time receiving the award in two years. She said the accolade gave the entire team a boost because it shows that all of their work was paying off.
Keefe said she feels there has been a big improvement in on-field communication between the players. She said she is proud to see her teammates realize their talent and come together.
She said the team has the potential for greatness and hopes to capitalize on it in her last year on the team.
“I wanted to come into this season knowing that I can push myself and knowing I can make a difference,” Keefe said. “I wanted to give myself another opportunity, one more opportunity to play, and I feel like my whole life has led me to this moment.”
Keefe’s teammate of three years, junior forward Wendie Fisher, said Keefe’s leadership over the years has been invaluable.
Fisher said she was glad when she found out Keefe was staying to play another year instead of becoming a graduate assistant.
“It’s very easy to see how much she cares about this team and wants us to succeed,” Fisher said. “Her experience playing with this team and her knowledge of the game gave us a big advantage going into this season. She’s helped me in a lot of ways, and I’m really grateful for all she’s done for me and this team.”
Fisher said the team wants to win for Keefe in her last year, because Keefe and the seniors on the team have given so much to the program.
This is the team’s second full season after COVID-19 interruptions shortened the fall 2020 season.
“Off the field I feel like soccer has affected everything in my work ethic,” Keefe said. “The whole (COVID-19) year taught me a lot about not even only my relationships, but how much soccer means to me and how much I’m willing to sacrifice for it.”
Calabrese, along with new assistant coach Gina Lewandowski, both know the program, having played for Lehigh together until graduating in 2007.
Calabrese and Lewandowski’s relationship is also something Keefe believes says something about the dynamic of Lehigh’s women’s soccer team.
“It’s super cool just to see their relationship grow and how they’re still in contact,” Keefe said. “Knowing they’ve been through what we have and knowing some days are gonna be harder than others and to keep pushing and it’ll pay off eventually.”
Calabrese said Keefe’s experience and perspective are both indispensable assets to the team. Calabrese said Keefe’s presence on the team during the uncertain times of COVID-19 and her participation in the Patriot League Championship as a freshman have been critical moments in the program’s history.
But, she said, it has been Keefe’s ability to connect with others and teach the game that has always been what has set her apart from the rest.
Keefe and the women’s soccer team will be back on the field Oct. 1 against Patriot League rival Boston University.