As their final season came to a close in the Patriot League quarterfinals on Oct. 29, some of the Lehigh women’s soccer team senior class reflects on challenges and life lessons they learned during their college careers as student-athletes.
Lehigh women’s soccer team’s senior class started during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senior midfielder Ava Schaller said navigating the pandemic while being new to the team was challenging. She had to quarantine in her dorm during the team’s fall season, which was canceled, but Schaller said this shared experience brought the team closer.
She said since they weren’t allowed to see anyone other than the people on their team, they were always hanging out with each other.
Senior midfielder Wendie Fisher said even though the pandemic posed a lot of challenges for her, it made it even more meaningful to finish out their season together.
“Coming to Lehigh during COVID was definitely not an easy thing for us,” Fisher said. “I think we all bonded through that and did our best to maintain that through the next four years.”
Senior captain Imani Ashman said both she and Fisher had COVID at the same time during their first year at Lehigh.
The two quarantined together while they recovered from the virus. Ashman said they still have many jokes from quarantining together and the experience made them closer as teammates and friends.
Ashman said soccer is based on trust, which is a vital element of the team’s success.
“That bond to trust your teammates makes you play so much better,” Ashman said. “You know that they’re going to work hard for you and it’s going to open you up to be more creative because you know someone has your back. And even if it doesn’t go well, you know they are there for you.”
Schaller said whenever you have a good relationship with someone, both on and off the field, it always translates to a better connection on the field.
For Schaller, Fisher is someone who she can always rely on.
“Whenever I’m on the field with her, she knows exactly my tendencies,” Schaller said. “I definitely feel a great connection with her because she always knows and predicts when and where I want the ball.”
Ashman said she could always count on Schaller. As a defender, Ashman passed to Schaller frequently because they played on the same side this season.
She said the team bus rides were some of her favorite team moments, where everyone sits by class — the older a player is, the further back on the bus they sit.
“I remember our (first) year where all of the seniors at the time (made) the (first-years) sing on the bus,” Ashman said. “This year, we were the ones picking the songs for everyone and it was full circle that the seniors were all doing it together.”
Reflecting on their four years, Fisher and Schaller share a most memorable moment with their 4-0 win against Navy in the Patriot League quarterfinals during their junior year.
Schaller said it was a huge victory for the team, and it was the farthest she’s ever personally gone in the Patriot League tournament.
“It was the first time that we had beat Navy in 10 years and my class played a big part in that,” Fisher said. “Being able to do that on our home field was one of my favorite memories.”
Ashman said her favorite memory was their sophomore year, when they secured a 2-1 victory over Lafayette with a buzzer-beater. Senior Emma Roesing scored the winning goal as time expired.
Ashman and Schaller said despite the slow start to the 2023 season, the team was motivated and well-accomplished.
“Obviously the goal every year is to win the Patriot League Championship, but we showed a lot of perseverance,” Schaller said. “We were still able to come back and make the playoffs, and I’m pretty proud of the fighting spirit we had this year.”
Fisher said her senior year was different from the rest of the class due to an ACL injury at the end of her junior year.
“I took on a different role as a senior trying to support the team off the field as much as I could,” Fisher said. “As a senior, it’s your job to set the example for the younger girls and figure out what way you want to lead.”
Fisher said it wasn’t easy for her to watch her team from the sideline during her final season. She said she wanted to come back, but she realized she had to step up and do what was best for the team at that moment by supporting the people who could contribute on the field.
Despite this challenge, Fisher said she accomplished the goals she set for herself before coming to Lehigh. She said she was able to live out her dream of playing college soccer while making a meaningful impact on her team.
Ashman had a much different season, which started with her being named captain.
“It was an honor to be someone that my team looks up to and someone that (they) come to for guidance,” Ashman said. “I thought that it represented a culmination of my time here at Lehigh soccer and the work I put into the program.”
While Schaller will be returning to Lehigh for a fifth year, Ashman will be taking a gap year after her pre-medical education at Lehigh.
Fisher is still deciding whether or not she will be returning to Lehigh to play for a fifth year or transferring to pursue a professional career with a consulting firm.
Despite leaving the sport, Ashman said she learned a lot about hard work and perseverance from her time on the team.
Fisher said playing soccer at Lehigh has shaped who she is as a person and she could not imagine not playing soccer here.
“There were definitely a lot of tough times that we had to go through but I wouldn’t change anything,” Fisher said. “Being on the team has given me lifelong friendships and has made me the person I am today.”