Shannon Keeler had to hold on for less than three minutes for her dream to come true.
Actually, two minutes and fifty-seven seconds – the longest 2:57 of her athletic life.
“I was praying we would get ball control,” Keeler said, “and we did.”
Keeler, a senior goalie for Gettysburg College, just saw her teammate Steph Colson score for a one-goal lead Sunday afternoon in the NCAA Division III Women's Lacrosse Championship.
The keeper from Moorestown High School just needed to keep all shots in front of her against top-ranked The College of New Jersey and she would be a national champion.
“I had to stay in the moment,” Keeler said. “I felt that way the whole tournament.”
When Keeler arrived at Gettysburg, she wasn’t used to needing to stay in the moment. The Quakers hadn’t lost her junior and senior seasons in high school.
Keeler, a four-year starter, suffered her first lost in three years as freshman to TCNJ in overtime. She remembered crying and Bullets coach Carol Cantele asked, ‘Shannon, why are you crying?” She recalled coach Cantele saying she would “learn from it and grow from it and it wasn’t the end of the world.”
Keeler was crying again after the 6-5 victory at Kerr Stadium on the campus of Roanoke College, but the tears flowed with joy.
“I can’t stop smiling,” Keeler said.
The game was tied 5-5 and the Lions were on attack when the Bullets forced a turnover and Keeler fielded the ground ball.
“It took me about 30 seconds to clear, but I was also waiting for Steph Colson,” Keeler said. “I didn’t know she would take the ball and go all the way up the field and score the game-winning goal.”
Then, the wait …
“The most understated play of the game was getting the possession off the draw,” Keeler said. “Katie Willis got the ball and we held it.”
After over two minutes, Keeler got the ball with about a half-minute to play in the crease and coach Cantele called a time out with 13 seconds left.
When played resumed, Keeler passed the ball to a defender, who was doubled teamed and passed the ball right back to Keeler, who started running with six seconds left. She was tripped and the ball rolled free.
“We had an open net with about two seconds left … and I rolled the ball in front of me,” Keeler recalled. “Katie Willis got it and the horn went off and we won the national championship.”
Keeler, who posted six saves and three ground balls in the final, was named to the NCAA All-Tournament Team along with teammates Caroline Jaeger, a senior attacker, and Cassie Smith, a junior.
Gettysburg (21-3) made its first appearance in the title game since 2011 and won its second national championship.
“I knew this team was special,” Keeler said. “I can’t say enough about my teammates, they are so great.”
Earlier in the season, Keeler became Gettysburg’s all-time wins leader in a 20-1 victory over Bryn Mawr College with her 59th career victory in the net. At the time, Keeler said modestly, “I’ve been lucky to have a strong team and defense in front of me for four years. It’s definitely a cool accomplishment, but its not just mine at all.”
Now, Gettysburg has the coolest accomplishment.
The Bullets were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in midseason before losing to No. 2 TCNJ by one goal. The goalie for TCNJ is Miranda Chrone, a sophomore who also played at Moorestown.
Chrone came into the championship game with the country's top Goals Against Average at 3.19.
“She is a great goalie and had a great year,” Keeler said. “She has two more years and getting to the national championship game as a sophomore is incredible.”
Keeler knows what knocking on the door of a title sounds like. The previous three seasons the Bullets reached the regional finals of the NCAA Division III tournament, losing in the Elite Eight Keeler’s freshman and junior seasons and as a sophomore in the Sweet 16.
Gettysburg, which entered the tournament ranked seventh, scored the game’s final two goals, but then the Lions (19-2) ripped four-straight goals.
“When they scored on me, I made a conscience decision we weren’t going to lose,” Keeler said.
Gettysburg, which beat Trinity (Conn.) College 8-4 in the semifinals on Saturday, was led by five seniors – Keeler, Jaeger, Macauley Mikes, Katelyn Neill and Emma Christie
"They've been an outstanding group," said Cantele about the senior class. "They've all led in very different ways and different manners, which is outstanding because people respond differently to types of leadership."
Keeler, who is also teammates with sophomore Emily Troy of Moorestown as well as freshman Liza Barr of Shawnee, is the youngest of four children of parents Monica and Lou. Her sister, Bridget, graduated from Wake Forest and twin brothers, Brendan and Colin, graduated from Notre Dame.
“My parents, I absolutely couldn’t have done this without them,” said Keeler, who graduated with a degree in organization and management and will start a job in August with AT&T. “They have been unbelievable, I love them so much.”
Keeler finished with the lowest single-season Goals Against Average by a Gettysburg goalie at 5.00. And she leaves Gettysburg with a school record 68-12 mark.
“It’s a cool accomplishment, but I hope its broken because that means program the is winning,” Keeler said. “I want other players to experience and felt what we felt.”
Yes, best of all, she leaves with a national championship.
“It's the best feeling in the world,” Keeler said, “and I get to have it forever.”
The cherished feeling just took 2:57 more than she would’ve liked.