Coach Seamus O’Connor packed his bags on a blistering cold day in December and drove to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to scout a particular player.
His wife didn’t understand why he was making the trip, since he had a 7 p.m. flight booked to London.
O’Connor was willing to risk missing his flight to make the recruiting trip.
He had his eyes set on a certain player, but freshman Emily Keitel stole his attention instead.
“I was like, ‘Holy smokes, who the heck is this kid?’” O’Connor said. “Then I started really recruiting her hard. It was literally just luck that I happened to be watching one kid and she went up against Emily that day. And Emily dominated her.”
While watching Keitel play, O’Connor saw similarities to former defender Erin Lafferty’s game.
Lafferty started in all 79 games from 2012-15, finishing her career with the most games played in school history. She became a reliable scoring threat in her senior season, converting all four of her penalty kick attempts and tallying a career-high seven goals.
In eight games, Keitel has one assist and 671 minutes played.
While Keitel may not be at Lafferty’s level yet, O’Connor saw things in her at which Lafferty excelled, like heading the ball and her ability to strike the ball. Both players also stand at 5-foot-9 inches and play the centerback position.
Once Keitel moved to Temple in June, Owls’ strength and conditioning coach Sam Whitney got her started on the same training model he used to build Lafferty.
O’Connor said it’s usually pretty difficult for freshmen to get adjusted to the speed of college level soccer, but the early training has helped Keitel become an immediate impact player for Temple.
“[Whitney] had a great platform with Erin Lafferty, who was a tremendous center back and Emily is kind of our new Erin Lafferty,” O’Connor said. He added that Whitney worked on Keitel’s speed, her jumping and her ability to head the ball.
O’Connor said that bravery is another trait Keitel and Lafferty share.
In the game against Princeton University on Sept. 9, Keitel’s brave play forced her to exit a game early.
A ball was kicked to midfield as Keitel contested a Princeton defender for a header. While making a play on the ball, she collided heads with the defender, which left her lying on the ground.
O’Connor ran out to the field with the trainer, and everything looked OK until he saw the other side of Keitel’s face.
There was a deep gash on the left side of her face right above her eyebrow.
O’Connor said it was the most blood he’d seen in a long time.
Keitel left that game to get seven stitches in order to stop the bleeding.
“She put her face out for the team,” freshman midfielder Morgan Morocco said. “That definitely shows a lot of leadership.”
Keitel went on to miss the next two out of four games. She missed the game against Binghamton University because of the stitches, and missed the New Jersey Institute of Technology game because of a nagging knee injury.
O’Connor said Keitel is a vital part of the Owls’ success and that he wanted her well rested for American Athletic Conference play.
The Owls, who finished 4-4-1 in The American last season, start conference play against Memphis this Thursday at 3:30 p.m. at The Temple Sports Complex.
Temple (3-7) has lost five of its last six games.
“She has soccer IQ, so she knows what’s going on all over the field,” Morocco said. “She’s definitely one of our biggest assets to the defense. She talks, she gets the ball out, she communicates.”
Tom Ignudo can be reached at email@example.com.