Oct. 30, 2010
By Justin Lafleur Lehigh Athletic Media Relations
Whether it's soccer, lacrosse, or in this case, field hockey, the goalie has a great impact on his or her respective game. What's the only drawback? There can only be one goalkeeper on the field at a time. For Lehigh seniors Jessica Miller and Lilia Stefaniwsky, they've turned a truly unique situation into an incredibly long-lasting bond.
"Lilia and I don't see ourselves as competitors," said Miller. "We are simply teammates. We have a very strong relationship, both on and off the field. We push each other at practice and support one another in good times and bad."
"Having two goalies the same year would most likely cause animosity on most teams, but Jess and I are genuinely great friends," said Stefaniwsky. "We bring out the best in each other because we are fighting for the same position. It is obvious that both of us want to play because we would not be here if we didn't."
The two have not only seen significant action, but have also enjoyed success over their four years at Lehigh. Entering their final career games this Saturday, they both stand among the nation's best in saves among active players. Miller is fourth nationally with 351 career saves while Stefaniwsky is 21st with 218. Lilia also stands seventh in career save percentage (.752).
Despite coming from different backgrounds - Miller is from Lititz, Pa. while Stefaniwsky reigns from New Vernon, N.J. - both fell in love with the school and the family feel around the Lehigh field hockey team.
"Once I stepped foot on campus, I fell in love with everything about this school," said Miller. "It has an unbeatable academic reputation and beautiful campus. The biggest influence on my decision to come, though, was the team. They instantly made me feel like part of the family, which was what I was looking for in my college experience."
"Lehigh has an excellent academic reputation," said Stefaniwsky. "I wanted to finally play on a field hockey team that I truly felt was like family. I also lucked out that the new STEPS building was ready during my time at Lehigh because the science facilities are incredible and all the professors are highly qualified and eager to teach."
Miller and Stefaniwsky have manned the cage from day one, combining to form a strong 1-2 punch right away as freshmen. Miller started all 18 games in 2007 while Stefaniwsky played in four contests, stopping all five shots she faced in over 65 minutes of action. They led the Mountain Hawks to a 3-2 Patriot League record and the first of what proved to be two league tournament appearances in their careers.
Since, the two have continued to split time in the cage, with Miller seeing increased time in 2008, Stefaniwsky leading the way in '09 and now Miller once again this season. Both have been successful when called upon.
Stefaniwsky's first start of 2010 came on Sept. 15 against Saint Joseph's when she made a career-high 20 saves. Miller has also enjoyed some highlight performances, including her first-career shutout on Sept. 22 at Siena, along with a career-high 22 stops last Saturday vs. Lafayette.
Each of them praises one another on the field as well as off.
"Lilia has a ton of great things going for her: she is brilliant, fun, easy-going, and a great goalkeeper and teammate," said Miller. "I think her best attribute is her sense of humor. I'm not sure how she comes up with some of the things she says and does, but I know that Lehigh field hockey would be a lot less entertaining without her.
"Whether I'm having a bad day and she is there to cheer me up or she is just being herself and doing something crazy, her sense of humor always makes everyone smile," Miller continued.
"Jess is a dreamer and an optimist," said Stefaniwsky. "She genuinely believes in her ideas, even if they involve solving global poverty or achieving world peace. This summer, Jess is going to Ecuador to promote education. It's a step Jess takes that will actually make the world a better place."
Lehigh has made an incredible impact on both student-athletes. Looking back at their four years, they wouldn't have it any other way. Each has very different career aspirations, which Lehigh has been able to enhance.
For Miller, she entered her college career with the goal of becoming an elementary school teacher, but that quickly changed. While at Lehigh, she has worked with different non-profit organizations involving conflict resolution and social change.
"I would love nothing more than to make a living by changing the lives of others," said Miller. "Lehigh has provided me with some incredible opportunities to not only discover this passion of mine, but to also experience it. I was lucky enough to take a class last year with two brilliant professors who I credit with making me realize that my passion for helping others could turn into a profession.
"They got me interested in non-profit organizations which then led me to the opportunity that I have this summer to travel to Ecuador with an amazing organization and build schools for impoverished children," she continued. "I can't explain how lucky I feel to be at a college that provides me with these types of life-changing opportunities. I hope to show my appreciation by spending the rest of my life in a career in which I give opportunities through education to children less fortunate than myself."
Meanwhile, Stefaniwsky has her goals set high as well, beginning with medical school, where she is currently applying.
"My ultimate goal is to become a plastic surgeon and start my own practice," she said. "Lehigh has a great biology department with several renowned professors in the field of neuroscience. My professors, especially Dr. Burger and Dr. Nyby, have made me so enthusiastic about neuroscience. I am looking forward to continuing my education in medical school.
"Lehigh has so many brilliant people that it has made me compete to become the best student I can be," she continued. "My classes have been incredibly challenging and being an athlete has made my experience even more difficult. I will be leaving Lehigh with the confidence that I can do anything."
Saturday's Senior Day will be bittersweet for six Mountain Hawks. Along with Miller and Stefaniwsky, Lauren Cawley, Katey Fardelmann, Claire Horn and Cassie Willard will also be playing in their final collegiate games. But for the goalie pair, they share a bond that will stick with them forever.
"I think a large part of our bond comes from our similar sense of humor," said Miller. "Whether we are on or off the field, Lilia and I are almost always laughing when we are around one another. Although we are in a difficult situation, I wouldn't trade it for the world because I think it has taught us a lot about what it means to be a teammate. I couldn't ask for a better or more supportive person to share this experience with."
"Most people would become frustrated or discouraged if they worked hard in practice, but did not get to play," said Stefaniwsky. "But as Maya Angelou once, said `If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. Don't complain.'
"Jess and I are each other's biggest fans."