You don’t stop Liz Keefer, you only try to prevent her from burning you for three goals.
Keefer had seven hat tricks (three or more goals) and 12 multiple-goal games during her a three-month goal-scoring party that gave her an eye-popping 33 total goals and eight assists this season. She had the greatest scoring campaign in Kettle Run girls soccer history scoring at least once in 14 games as the Cougars (15-3-2) captured the Conference 22 regular season title and advanced to the 4A West Region quarterfinals.
She finished with a school-record 63 career goals, which currently ranks 20th on the VHSL all-time list.
So Keefer, who also shined in basketball, is 2017 Fauquier Times Kettle Run Girls Athlete of the Year.
“I think her ability to strike the ball so well set her apart and made it difficult to completely shut her down,” Kettle Run coach Matt Zuras said. “All she needed was a small window to get a shot off.”
The Shenandoah University-bound senior forward’s 63 career goals topped the 49 by former teammate Emily Yergin, the 2016 Fauquier Times Kettle Run Girls Athlete of the Year.
“Every team marked Liz and focused their defense on stopping her, especially in the second half of the season, yet she still had 33 goals,” said Zuras, who assumed head coaching duties when Elizabeth Martin went on maternity leave.
Keefer modestly noted she’s not that fast, but she gave herself kudos for her ability to make sound decisions in the final third and to score with the left and right foot.
Keefer said her ability to use both feet “is my number one strength,” and “I can read the defense.”
She was also clutch, scoring seven game-winning goals, and she accounted for the first goal in eight contests. She was helped by a strong supporting cast that included junior forward Sarah Mitchell and sophomore midfielder Payton Fiel.
Keefer was named Conference 22 Player of the Year, made the 4A West all-region first team and made the 4A all-state second team. She also set five school records this year.
As a freshman, Keefer played varsity basketball, but an injury to her posterior cruciate ligament led to a junior varsity soccer assignment.
“Looking back on it, it was good for me to play JV after being off for four and one-half months,” she said. “It wasn’t as intense.”
Martin elevated her to varsity late in the season, and she responded with an important score versus Warhill in the region playoffs. Kettle Run then lost the 3A state championship game to Blacksburg, 1-0.
Keefer had one goal as a freshman, 10 as a sophomore and 19 as a junior. As a senior, she notched 10 goals in the first eight games before embarking on a tear of 23 scores in the final 12 contests.
Despite her mother’s coaxing to play basketball, the sport was not on Keefer’s radar screen when she entered Kettle Run.
Yet she made the team, and her decision proved meaningful.
“I got to meet a different group of people that weren’t in soccer. That was really exciting for me,” Keefer said. “I had fun.”
But “I had no idea of what I was doing,” she said. “My big thing was 'I’m trying something new,' and I was having fun with it.”
Then-coach Steve Sviatko used her on the perimeter for two years, before moving her to forward. At 5-foot-6, she was apprehensive about the change.
“She would do it for the betterment of the team. That is the type of player and person that Liz was,” Sviatko said. “No matter how hard the task or job is, she would step up and do whatever it took.”
She finished second on the team with 5.5 rebounds per game while scoring 5 points per game, which helped the Cougars tie a program record with nine wins.
This past winter, Keefer and Natalie Carmichael were the only seniors for new coach Ellen Allen, and they provided stability.
“I’d seen Liz show a lot of leadership in the sports medicine program and on the soccer field,” Allen said. “I felt she could help me as a new coach, and having a young team.”
One theme, however, was a frustrating right thumb injury that plagued Keefer most of her senior season. As a right-handed player, the injury and its resulting brace made it almost impossible for her to control the ball with her right hand.
She even needed help tying her shoes.
“She made herself a left-handed player when she hurt that right thumb,” Allen said.
Free throws were the greatest frustration for Keefer. Her aggressive moves to the basket and tenacious rebounding often sent her to the foul line.
Her right-hand free throw attempts were awkward push shots, so she switched to southpaw. Searching for a better answer, she reverted to the old-fashioned two-handed underhand shot.
Keefer fought past the limitation to earn all-Conference 22 second team honors, hauling in 6.5 rebounds per game and scoring 7.8 points per contest despite not being able to grasp the ball or flex her right hand.
The injury eventually led to a hard cast and an early end to her senior season.
She also was a ferocious defender, Allen said, with 2.5 steals a game.
“I feel fortunate that I had her as long as I did,” the coach said. “She pushed through even with that brace being a hindrance to her. She was a great player and showed a lot of leadership.”
Reunion at Shenandoah
At Shenandoah, Keefer will reunite with several long-time friends, as well as high school and travel soccer teammates.
They will include Yergin, who will be a sophomore after a sterling freshman season where she scored 21 goals to place seventh on NCAA Division III national scoring list. Keefer also will join sophomore Bretton Butler, a 2016 Liberty High School graduate who played at Shenandoah last fall.
“I’m so excited,” Keefer said. “I can’t wait.”
Shenandoah coach Elizabeth Pike hopes Keefer is another weapon against Lynchburg College, an Old Dominion Athletic Conference power.
“Her big thing is to beat Lynchburg,” Keefer said of Pike. “They’re always on top. She really wants that.”
An all-Kettle Run attack of Yergin and Keefer might prove deadly.
“She wants Emily and I to feed off each other,” Keefer said of Pike. “I want to have a good season. My focus [is] I just want to get some playing time.”
Future athletic trainer
Keefer was so smitten with the Winchester college that she did not apply elsewhere, and she actually made the decision to attend Shenandoah when she was a junior in December 2015.
“I was one-for-one in my college application,” she said with a smile. “I wanted to go to Shenandoah so badly.”
She is interested in athletic training as a career, and she has relatives who work as trainers and nurses, and some who work in emergency services. She said having a knee injury also taught her about the profession.
“I got hurt and had to spend more time in there. I liked the atmosphere,” she said. “I just found it fascinating. I wanted to learn more.”
Keefer gained knowledge and familiarity with sports medicine at Kettle Run. Head trainer Natalie Campbell selected her as the most valuable student trainer this past school year. Keefer has worked as a football student trainer the past two seasons after taking a Sports Medicine I class as a sophomore and Sports Medicine II as a junior.
At Shenandoah, she hopes to enter the athletic training fast track program. She would be able to bypass the usual general education requirements and go more quickly into the training curriculum.
“Her willingness to learn is going to take her a long way in life and on the sports field,” Sviatko said. “It is a characteristic that you can’t teach people, and that is what Liz has.”