Keirsten Sires, Founder and CEO: “Paige is a LRT Sports Intern intern, and is highly revered in my company, we are extremely proud of her and I can only hope that her story will inspire any athlete who reads this article.”
After earning a starting position in goal halfway through her freshman year and continuing in that role into her sophomore season, Lehigh University field hockey’s Paige Innarella found herself in a rut which resulted in lost playing time.
Innarella didn’t let this time spent on the bench define her. Instead, she did something about it.
“Paige worked very hard her freshman year to secure a starting position then came back strong for her sophomore season, but hit a period of inconsistent play where she wasn’t putting out her strongest performances,” said Lehigh head coach Caitlin Dallmeyer. “It opened the door for another goalkeeper to see time in her place. After Paige’s first game with less time in goal, she came to the staff and said ‘I understand I’m not as consistent in my play as I once was and I am going to fix it.'”
As American novelist and short story writer James Lane Allen said, “Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.”
Following that conversation with the coaching staff, Innarella’s character was certainly revealed. Facing adversity, she worked even harder to earn her starting spot back. Over her last seven games of 2017, Innarella posted a 0.750 save percentage with three wins and two shutouts. Included was a dramatic 1-0 overtime win over Lafayette, the Mountain Hawks’ first victory against the Leopards since 2005.
“Paige has three great assets that our staff values tremendously,” said Dallmeyer. “The first is self-awareness; she knows her strengths and weaknesses and is realistic in her evaluation of her play. The second is her positivity; she has an ability to see the positive in everything and her glass half full personality draws her teammates to her when they fall into tough situations. The third is her relentless work rate, which has revealed itself in her time in this program. She will do anything for this team and that includes making herself the best player possible.”
From jumping into the goal cage as a youngster to owning long-term aspirations of attending law school, being up for a challenge has been a common theme throughout Innarella’s life.
“When I get thrown a challenge, I try to make the best of it, always staying positive and optimistic,” said Innarella.
Paige has always had a competitive side. From a sports family (her brother currently wrestles at Princeton University), Innarella played soccer and softball growing up, beginning to play field hockey in the seventh grade.
“I played in the field a little bit, but then halfway through the season, my friend didn’t want to play goalie anymore and she asked me to do it,” said Innarella.
Even as a seventh grader, Innarella was up for the challenge.
“I played in goal from then on,” she said.
Being up for that challenge led to Innarella finding something she was successful at and enjoyed. Innarella eventually found herself playing field hockey at Lehigh – a place that piqued her interest after her brother was recruited by Lehigh for wrestling.
Innarella was already committed to Lehigh before Coach Dallmeyer signed on to lead the program, but Paige has embraced the new coaching staff’s approach. Her “up for the challenge” mentality is important for a program that has to break many barriers to reach its ultimate goals.
“Our whole team, halfway through the season, just started to click and when I saw other people clicking, it made me want to work harder,” said Innarella. “It was all about having a team-first mentality. That’s my mindset, putting others first on the field. The Lafayette game played a huge part in that.”
Innarella did her part, stopping all 12 shots sent her way to earn Patriot League Goalkeeper of the Week honors. But it’s not about individual accolades. Lehigh has posted three shutouts in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1999-00, an accomplishment for an entire defensive unit, which is anchored by Innarella.
“We’ve had a lot of people step up in the backfield,” said Innarella. “We’ve started communicating more, and our forwards and midfielders have come back more to play defense. More people in the circle has created less scoring options, less shots on goal and more shutouts. Getting back on defense, and one-on-one defense, was a big thing that we focused on last fall and spring.”
Innarella has helped in the program’s culture change by growing into a more vocal leader. The biggest growth happened towards the end of her sophomore season, carrying over into the spring.
“Paige has an attractive personality that her teammates want to be around. She radiates positivity,” said Dallmeyer. “On the flip side, she is always willing to push herself harder than ever before to achieve things this program has never achieved. These traits are important for where our team is headed and I believe her teammates have begun to recognize that in her. We have pushed Paige to find her voice, both on and off the field, and the team has benefited greatly from her willingness to lead in the backfield and have courageous conversations off the field.”
“I’m definitely more confident in my abilities and more confident in everyone around me,” said Innarella. “When I’m leading others around me, it definitely helps our play.”
One way Innarella remains engaged and excited on a daily basis is embracing the daily challenges sent her way.
“I love when we compete in practice,” said Innarella. “It can be a running competition or a scoring competition. I just love showing up to practice and having fun with my teammates and competing in that way. I know our coaches stress having fun while you’re competing and making it competitive. That’s why I get excited and stay positive when going to practice, because I know something good is coming out of competing with each other.
Innarella’s “up for the challenge” mentality translates off the field as well.
“I like to take classes I’m not always comfortable in,” said Paige. “Trish (Reilly) and I always take at least one Psychology class. We want to rise up to the occasion.”
Innarella still has two years at Lehigh remaining, but her challenges will remain. After graduation, the Political Science major is aspiring to attend law school.
“Since high school, I’ve always played around with the idea of being a lawyer or going into something law related,” she said. “It’s always been there as a possibility.”
Undoubtedly, law school will be a challenge, but Innarella knows her time at Lehigh is preparing her well.
“I’ve definitely grown a lot since the beginning of freshman year, not even just as an athlete, but also academically and experiencing the Leadership Academy,” she said. “As a student-athlete, you are thrown into all these challenging situations and you have no choice but to grow from them.”
Innarella is defeating most challenges sent her way. Because of that, not only she, but everyone around her, is benefitting.
“Paige is the ideal athlete we look for,” said Dallmeyer. “She has a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed one and is consistently seeking ways to improve herself and her team. She has been motivated by challenges and her contribution to the team has increased because of it. We look forward to having her in a prominent leadership role this year because of the example she is consistently setting for others.”
Images courtesy of Lehigh Athletics