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Kelee Lepage follows path from sweet start in field hockey to U.S. Olympic team

Kelee Lepage’s journey to the Olympics began when she was 8 with a summer camp that she didn’t want to attend and a free cup of water ice.

“My mom wanted me to go to this camp at Twin Valley,” Lepage recalled. “I remember not wanting to try field hockey probably because I loved all the other sports I was playing.

“I just loved it so much. Then at the end of the week we got Rita’s Water Ice. I thought, ‘This is awesome. We get Rita’s. I can play this sport.’ ”

Lepage has never stopped playing. She led Twin Valley to the 2015 PIAA Class 2A championship as a senior and helped Maryland win three Big Ten titles and reach two NCAA championship games.

Earlier this month, she reached the pinnacle of U.S. field hockey when she was named to the 16-player team that will compete in the Paris Olympics beginning July 27 against Argentina.

Lepage, 26, is one of four Berks County high school products on the roster, joining former Twin Valley teammate Ashley Hoffman, Hamburg grad Karlie (Heistand) Kisha and Oley Valley grad Sophia Gladieux. Fleetwood resident Meredith Sholder, who graduated from Emmaus, is also on the team, which was announced June 10.

“We got a message on our team’s interface,” Lepage said. “I looked for my name and it was there. I started shaking. I was so excited. I was so crazy and so excited. I had a peaceful feeling going into it. I was hopeful. I was confident in the way I was playing.

“I felt a little bit of relief, too. I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Kelee Lepage and her family have always had a keen interest in the Olympics. From left are Joanie, her mother; Kelee; Paul, her brother; and Joe, her father. (Courtesy of the Lepage family)
Kelee Lepage and her family have always had a keen interest in the Olympics. From left are Joanie, her mother; Kelee; Paul, her brother; and Joe, her father. (Courtesy of the Lepage family)

She was named to the U.S. national team in January 2020 and has endured three significant injuries since then, each one sidelining her for three months.

“I had two concussions and an injury to the sesamoid bone on the bottom of my big toe,” she said. “I’ve been through quite a bit. After the second concussion (last year), I was able to gain a lot of momentum. I feel like it was about persevering, having trust in the process and working hard.”

Lepage was on the U.S. team that made a surprising run in the Olympic qualifying tournament in January in India. Ranked 12th in the world, the Americans defeated India, New Zealand and Italy before edging Japan 2-1 in the semifinals to clinch a trip to Paris after the U.S. missed the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. They finished second after losing to Germany in the final.

Lepage played against Japan before watching the last nerve-wracking minutes from the sideline.

“It was extremely intense,” she recalled. “I tried to give a lot of energy to the girls on the field. I just remained confident. I had a lot of faith and trust in the squad.

“It was surreal when it ended. We went there and did what we set out to do. There was a lot of screaming. It was just incredible. It was a testament to the strength of our team and to the women who stuck around after not qualifying for Tokyo.”

One of those women is Hoffman, the daughter of former Twin Valley coach Brenda (Stauffer) Hoffman, who won a bronze medal with the U.S. team in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Brenda Hoffman ran the camp that Lepage first attended as a third grader and coached her for most of her time at Twin Valley.

“She instilled that dream and that confidence in me,” Lepage said. “She saw my talent and recognized it. She helped me get to where I wanted to go. There was a lot of encouragement and a lot of hard work.”

Lepage realized not soon after she began playing field hockey that she was “naturally gifted at it” and that it appealed to her because it was “different and very creative.”

At home, her parents, Joe and Joanie, noticed how often their daughter worked on her game. So they turned their basement into her personal practice area, setting up a huge tarp with a goal outline on it and covering the floor with artificial turf.

“You know how you know when a kid truly loves a sport?” said Joanie, who played field hockey in high school and college. “She would constantly go into our basement without telling us. She’d go there all the time.

“ ‘ Mom, do you want to come down here with me? Mom, would you hit with me?’ Yes, of course, I did. I knew she loved the sport.”

In high school, she helped the Raiders win three Berks League championships, made the All-Berks and All-State teams three times and scored 106 goals. She was named the county’s Player of the Year as a senior in 2015 when Twin Valley won the first of its two state field hockey titles.

In the semifinals that year, Twin Valley trailed Crestwood 2-0 at the half before Lepage encouraged her teammates to keep their heads up. The Raiders tied it in regulation and won 3-2 in overtime on her game-winner.

“She was the best teammate I’ve ever coached,” said Kim Walsh, who succeeded Hoffman as Raiders coach in 2015. “She worked hard all the time. She worked hard when we weren’t looking. She was there for her team. She played for her team. She trained for her team.

“She just has this energy about her, this positive energy. She brings this light no matter where she is. She’s always happy. She’s grateful for every opportunity she has. It’s insane.”

The Lepage family has always had a keen interest in the Olympics. Joanie works as a phys ed teacher at Hillsdale Elementary School in West Chester and sets up her field day each year as the Summer Olympics, assigning each class a country with that nation’s flag and colors.

So it was obvious who Kelee first called to say she had made the Olympic team.

“I was thankfully at a light on my way to work,” Joanie said. “And the light had just turned red when Kelee FaceTimed me. I was able to look at her and saw her face. She had her hand up to her mouth. She said, ‘Mom, I’m an Olympian!’ We both just freaked out. I started crying.

“I’m not going to lie. You have hopes and dreams of your child getting selected. Did we feel that Kelee had a good opportunity? Yes, but you just don’t know. It was an overwhelming feeling of relief and joy. Complete joy.”

Kelee doesn’t remember exactly when she began dreaming of playing in the Olympics.

“With Brenda coaching me and being an ‘84 Olympian, that was something obviously talked about,” she said. “Early on I thought that could be a goal of mine. I feel like my mom also instilled a lot of that in me. She’d say, ‘Dream big, girlfriend.’

“As much as this has been my journey, it’s been my family’s as well.”

Source: Berkshire mont

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