CENTER VALLEY, Pa. — Scoring a goal is exciting for any soccer player. But when it also means breaking new ground, the accomplishment is even sweeter.
Such was the case for Penn State Lehigh Valley sophomore and men’s soccer team member Elizabeth “Liz” Wagner, who during the Sept. 26 game against Penn State Beaver became the first female soccer player in the Pennsylvania State University Athletic Conference (PSUAC) to score a goal in a men’s soccer game.
“It’s exciting. It was crazy that I scored,” said Wagner, crediting her teammates’ hard work in the first 80 minutes of the game with helping to make the goal happen. “I was the last one to touch the ball before it went in the net. It was a great kick from John ‘Yianni’ Hahalis — I just had to touch it to get it in the net.”
Wagner is currently one of three female players on the PSU-LV men’s soccer team, along with Jacora Tippins and Zainab Mohamed, who became the second female player to score a goal for the team during the Oct. 5 game against Penn State Hazleton. PSU-LV currently sits atop the PSUAC standings and has an overall record of 7-3-1.
A rehabilitation and human services major, Wagner said playing on the men’s team has been a positive experience.
“The guys on the team are great. They are really encouraging and push all of us a lot harder,” said Wagner, who also sings the national anthem prior to each home game. “And the other two female players continue to inspire me every day. I figure if they can do it, I can do it. We know we’re playing with men, so we try harder. We bring the energy to make everyone try harder.”
PSU-LV head soccer coach Abe Mamari said the female players have changed the dynamic of the men’s team in a positive way, bringing strengths that have benefited everyone.
“When females decide to play on a men’s team, that’s a big step for them. And being able to compete in a very physical game is outstanding,” Mamari said.
“Elizabeth is proving to be a very good leader for the men’s team,” added Blaine Silfies Jr., assistant men’s and women’s soccer coach. “Liz is a real leader because of the way she acts, her voice … she has a very strong voice. She is willing to help right away without being asked — that’s something that stands out right away as a real leader. When she goes on the field, she does exactly what we tell her to do. She’s not afraid to go up against someone bigger.”
Originally from Brodheadsville, Pennsylvania, Wagner has played soccer since junior high.
“When I was in sixth grade, my best friend played on the boys’ team for the age division. Her dad wanted to start a girls’ soccer team,” she recalled. “They put me on the travel team, and I couldn’t stop playing.”
Wagner played throughout high school at Pleasant Valley High School and was looking forward to continuing her playing career at the collegiate level. PSU-LV was in the planning stages of organizing a women’s soccer team in the fall of 2019, but COVID and its subsequent lockdowns put those plans on hold.
Never one to step away from a challenge, Wagner joined the men’s team, which was established in 2017.
“Back in 2017, the soccer program began, and they wanted to see how we did before entering the conference. A female player named Grayson Thew joined the team, and she actually scored the first goal for the program. At that time, it was a club team and not part of the conference, so it didn’t count,” Silfies said. “The following year, 2018, we entered the conference, and Liz is the first woman to score for the men’s team in the conference.”
The coaches remain optimistic about eventually bringing a women’s soccer team to PSU-LV. According to Silfies, a number of female students have already expressed an interest in playing for the 2022 season.
“We’re going to push for it next season,” Mamari said. “The door is open to everyone. And if there isn’t a women’s team next year, we’re happy to have them on the men’s team. There’s a good positive energy that comes from that. We want to win, but it’s not all about the winning. ‘Winning’ to us is having a strong, prepared person for the future. Be a good person first, then you’ll be a better player. We look for athletes who are team players, just like the three women on the team. To step in and make that decision, as coaches we’re very proud of them.”