Lizzy Harvell’s collegiate soccer debut was memorable and forgettable all at once.
The Steinert High graduate will always remember opening day of her freshman year at Ramapo, as the goalie was lit up in a 9-1 loss to nationally ranked Stevens. But in order to move onward, she had to forget about it.
So, while the nine goals remain ingrained in her mind, she will never give a second thought to the negative vibes she felt after the game. That selective amnesia has played a part in Harvell’s rise, as she gradually improved during her freshman year and earned Honorable Mention All-New Jersey Athletic Conference last season as a sophomore.
“We were at Stevens, and I had a rough ride home on the bus,” Harvell said. “I was kind of upset, it was hard. You come in, you want to do great, you want to play for the team and all the girls ahead of you. You’re a freshman, you want to prove yourself. The fact I let up nine goals, is like, ‘Wow they must think I think I’m awful right now.’”
There were extenuating circumstances, however. Harvell entered training camp thinking she would be the No. 2 goalie and have a chance to learn a little about the college game before getting a start. But when the incumbent keeper did not return, Harvell was the opening-day starter.
It did not help that the game was against what coach Abby Shiffler called, “one of the best teams she will ever play. They are consistently ranked in the top 10 in the nation.”
Fortunately for Harvell, Shiffler played four years of goalie for Monmouth and could relate to what her freshman had just gone through. The two had a talk, and the coach noted that she was beaten by a good team and should not shoulder all the blame. One goal came on a penalty shot, a few others were on breakaways, and some were just great shots.
“As a keeper, if you can say that you didn’t give up any easy goals, then you’ve done your job,” Shiffler said. “If someone hits an upper 90 shot, good for them. Just don’t get beat near post or because you were cheating. She didn’t give up any bad goals in that game, and I told her what she went through will only make us better.”
The message got through to Harvell, who sulked for a day and then went back to work.
“I took a step back, and I said to myself, ‘It’s your first college game, you’re playing a nationally ranked team, dwell on today and then just shake it off, have a hard practice tomorrow, come back the next game and be ready to go,’” she said. “That’s the thought process to have to have. I give myself a day to be mad and upset if I have a bad game. The next day I forget about it. You dwell on it too long; it’s gonna affect you for who knows how long.”
‘You think you’re in shape, you need to be 100 times more in shape than you already are.’
She jokes that she set the bar low following that opening game.
“I didn’t let up nine after that,” she said with a laugh. “I thought as long as we don’t have any more 9-1 games we’re good. Maybe eight, but not nine. But really, I thought ‘I gotta figure this out here, something’s not working.’”
Harvell figured it out pretty quick. After being the un-proud owner of a 9.00 goals-against-average one game into her career, Harvell started to chip away at the unsightly number.
In Ramapo’s next four games, the opposition’s goal totals were 1, 1, 0, 3 and 3. There were a few tough games later in the year against top NJAC teams but Harvell was pretty much getting on-the-job-training throughout the year. She started all but one game, finished with 77 saves, a 3.05 goals-against average, .626 save percentage and two shutouts.
And although things got better as the season progressed, Harvell quickly realized she wasn’t in the Colonial Valley Conference anymore.
“It was crazy that first year,” she said. “I thought I was in shape, I thought I was this superstar, and you get there and you kind of get touched down a notch. It’s nowhere what you think it is. You think you’re in shape, you need to be 100 times more in shape than you already are. You’re this great keeper in high school, and you give up nine goals in your first college game. It was ridiculous. I was like, ‘Wow, I really need to look at my whole way I come at this thing. It’s nothing like high school.’”
Rather than sympathy, Harvell got tough love from Shiffler and assistant coach Samantha Hirsh, who played goalie for Syracuse.
“Her first season, we were very hard on her,” Shiffler said. “I told her, ‘You are both blessed and cursed. You’re blessed because you have two D-I goalies coaching you. But you’re cursed a bit because we won’t let anything slide, and we’re going to be very tough on you.’ To her credit, she worked really hard and went from giving up a lot of rebounds and some bad goals, to coming up with three and four saves in a row and some unbelievable game-changing saves more than once.”
Things improved last fall after Harvell went through a vastly increased summer training regimen. She started all 16 games, made 92 saves, had a 2.18 goals against average, .724 saves percentage and two shutouts. The Roadrunners were only 4-12, as they scored just 16 goals, but Harvell’s work was noticed by the other NJAC coaches.
“I didn’t think I’d get anything like All-Conference,” she said. “It’s cool that even though we didn’t have a great season, coaches recognize players from lower teams, basically saying ‘They had a good season, they played well.’”
Harvell began her career as a field player for the Hamilton Wildcats. At age 9, when her team’s keeper got hurt, she volunteered to go in goal and immediately fell in love with it.
“Just diving and falling into people and catching the ball, there was nothing like it,” she said.
After stints with the Hibernians and the Next Level Soccer Academy in Pennington, Harvell saw time on Steinert’s varsity as a junior and became the fulltime starter her senior year. Shiffler saw her play at a tournament and invited her to a Ramapo clinic as a junior, and Harvell found a home in Mahwah.
“As a former goalie, I saw a lot of potential in Lizzy,” Shiffler said. “She came to our ID clinic and I could tell right away that with the right training she was going to be a great keeper. You could tell that she was very coachable and would work hard. She was a little green but absorbed everything we said in that session.”
Shiffler’s goalie pedigree also had an impact on Harvell.
“Not that [other coaches] don’t understand, but they don’t fully, 100 percent completely understand the position unless they played it,” Harvell said. “I can talk to her about things that field player coaches wouldn’t understand and she can give me better feedback on it.”
Ramapo is looking for an improved season if it can get some goalscoring. Three of the four defenders have experience, and Harvell is now a team leader. Shiffler noted that she has gotten better each year, and this season the coach wants to fine-tune certain aspects; such as being more vocal, dictating the game’s pace with her distribution, and being a leader.
“I’m certain she can do all that,” the coach said.
But perhaps Harvell’s greatest attribute—and an absolute must for a goalie—is her ability to turn negatives into positives during the course of a game. It’s like the memorable-forgettable Stevens game on a smaller scale—remember miscues only to learn from them.
“When you give up a goal, instead of shutting down, you should be thinking, ‘I want them to come back down so I can make an incredible save and make up for my mistake,’” Shiffler said. “You can’t teach that. A player will either shut down and dwell on it, or they have that true keeper mentality, that learns from the mistake but immediately blacks out the visual part of the mistake that was made. It’s erased, and you’re on to the next save. Lizzy has that.”
No matter what she does this autumn, Harvell may have already reached her greatest achievement of 2018. Despite working all summer at Heavenly Havens ice cream shop, she actually lost weight in preparation for the season.
“I had to compensate for the issue, so you just gotta work out a little extra,” she said. “You can’t just not eat ice cream. It’s, like, the best thing ever.”