SELINSGROVE — The club soccer coach looked over his group of middle school players and asked if anyone wanted to volunteer to play goalkeeper.
At first, no one responded. Then Madi Welliver looked around, saw no hands in the air and nervously raised her hand.
“I felt bad (that no one had offered) and I raised my hand and I said, ‘I guess I do.’ But I didn’t really want to,” Welliver said this week.
Fast-forward nearly a decade to Wednesday night on Susquehanna University’s Sassafras Field, and Welliver — who recalled that she at first hated playing in goal — was the last line of defense in the River Hawks’ win in a Landmark Conference semifinal game versus Catholic.
Welliver dived in front of a Maggie Moorcones penalty kick near the left side of the cage, giving Susquehanna a 3-2 shootout win after the sides played through regulation and two overtimes without scoring. The top-seeded River Hawks will play in their third consecutive Landmark final at 1 p.m. Saturday when they host No. 3 Scranton.
Heavily recruited as a soccer goalkeeper out of high school — where she played soccer, basketball, softball and track and field — Welliver’s final choice was between Susquehanna and Lycoming College. She chose the latter.
She started nine games in goal as a freshman for the Warriors before an injury — which eventually required surgery — cut her initial season short.
Late in the season, while injured, Welliver thought about transferring.
“It was my first time playing college soccer. It was great. I loved my coaches and I had great teammates. It was the injury part, and finding my place in the school,” she said. “It was a great school, but I didn’t feel like it was for me.”
The choice to transfer, like her chance opportunity to play in goal years ago, came about by happenstance.
“I had visited Susquehanna (during the recruitment process) and Lycoming and Susquehanna were neck and neck until May 1. I decided last minute,” she said.
However, Welliver works at Susquehanna during the summer for former Bucknell women’s basketball coach Kathy Fedorjaka’s Next Level program.
“I got locked out of the gym one day and I walked around the campus and I thought, ‘This would be a nice place to go to school.’ I thought it would be a good fit, and it was,” Welliver said.
Perhaps no one was happier to hear the news than Susquehanna women’s soccer coach Nick Hoover.
Hoover said he was happy for Welliver that she was playing well at Lycoming noting the coaches and players all said great things about her.
When he heard that she might transfer to Susquehanna, the eighth-year head coach said, “I knew a lot about her, what a great player she was and what a great person she was, and I knew she had the ability to come here and do great things.”
Last year, Welliver was a Landmark Conference second-team all-star after making 85 saves on 138 shots with 13 shutout and a 0.914 save percentage. This season, with three saves in the semifinal on Wednesday, the junior has 54 and nine shutouts.
“In the two years Madi has been here, she’s made an impact tremendously in our program in more than one way,” Hoover said. “She’s a very practical, pragmatic person, which is not always the case with goalkeepers, speaking as a former goalkeeper. A lot of them are a little out there, and she can be at times, but, at the same time, she is very level-headed, and she is a tremendous student.”
Hoover said that Welliver, a dean’s list student, carries a 4.0 average, which is super for an athlete playing two sports.
“She has a great personality, she works very hard, she’s tough on herself and also keeps her teammates level,” he said. “The only times I’ve ever had trouble is when she’s too down on herself.”
In addition, Welliver was able to also fulfill her dream of playing college women’s basketball.
She was on the team at Lycoming, but was limited to two games because of the injury, and subsequently received a medical redshirt for that season. Welliver has another year of eligibility remaining for soccer, but two more years for basketball.
She came to Susquehanna hoping to play both sports, and she has done that.
“We’ll see how it goes,” the early childhood education major said about whether she will use her extra year in 2020. “Susquehanna started a master’s program for education majors so if that were an opportunity, I could take advantage of it, but I’m not sure yet.”
First-year Susquehanna women’s basketball coach Gabby Holko is happy that Welliver will join her team after soccer season is over.
“Madi is a fantastic two-sport athlete. She has a special gift where she can be a major contributor on the soccer field and then transition to being a major contributor on the court,” Holko said. “We are very proud of Madi and what she has accomplished so far this season, but we are very excited to get her back on the court.
“I told Madi though that she has to bring back a championship before she’s allowed back on the court. I think when student-athletes play two sports it makes them a more well-rounded athlete.”
Last year the 6-foot forward started 18 games (of 23 she played), led the team in blocks with 21, was second in rebounds (125) and third in assists (22). She was the high rebounder seven times, highlighted by a double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds) against Elizabethown. She averaged 5.4 points per game.
Welliver said basketball was always her first love and, after her initial dislike of playing goalie, soccer became equally enjoyable.
She started playing forward, then moved to outside mid before gravitating to goal, where she played the final three years of high school.
“At first I hated (playing goalie) but then the more and more I played and I got better at it and actually had some technique and got to know what I was doing, I learned to love it, and I couldn’t imagine playing anywhere else now,” Welliver said.
She credited the improvement in her soccer skills to her Warrior Run coaches — head coach Jen Allan and assistant Alecia Gold (both now at Hughesville with Gold as head coach) — and her proficiency in goal to former Susquehanna assistant Ebony Campbell.
“I never really had any legitimate goalie training. Last year with our assistant coach (Campbell) was the first legitimate goalkeeper trainer I ever had,” she said.
Campbell left after last season, but Hoover works with Welliver.