There was no dotted line for Keegan Marsh to sign.
No frantic scheduling to pretend write her name on a blank piece of paper, posing with a smile like the typical signing day athletes.
But the James M. Bennett senior will play field hockey on the Division I level. And she says she can still mess that all up.
That’s the price she pays to be Ivy League.
Marsh was recruited by Columbia University to play center midfield, but the Ivy League school does not give out scholarships for field hockey. Instead, the school must commit to the athlete, rather than the athlete sign. First Marsh received a “likely letter,” which meant it looked like her academics were good enough and there was a verbal interest for her to play field hockey.
But not too long after the first letter, all of the finger-crossing and knocking on wood worked as Marsh received her acceptance letter.
“We’re so excited to see you on the hockey field,” her admissions officer wrote.
“I think a little bit of shock,” Marsh says. “It’s so surreal that I’m actually going. I still have a chance of messing it up, so I’m really trying hard not to mess it up. It’s amazing to think I get to spend the next four years at one of the best educational schools in the U.S.”
But ask anyone who knows Marsh and they will say there’s zero chance of her not ending up on the New York campus next fall.
Dream come true
Marsh’s father, Steve, grew up on Long Island and the family travels there every summer. A half hour away from the vacation home, Marsh says she always saw Columbia as a dream to attend.
Her freshman year at Bennett, Marsh expressed interest to her parents in playing collegiate hockey. She joined the Shore club team, the Shorebyrds, and spent every moment trying to improve her game.
Traveling all along the east coast with the Shorebyrds, and also to California, Marsh developed her game against top competition, gaining interest from other D-I schools like Towson and Syracuse.
But she would only consider Columbia on the D-I level.
It was the opportunity that came with the biggest challenge — Marsh needed to amp up the classroom abilities.
She boasts a 4.3 GPA, raised her SATs and took AP courses, which caught the attention of her club coach Judi Bradford, who reached out to Columbia.
The head coach of the Columbia team said Marsh’s grades met the mark and the rest fell into place after more coursework.
It was just the athletics that Marsh needed to accomplish, it was all the other factors that made Steve Marsh fatherly pride swell.
“That’s what I’m most proud of,” he said, “to set her sights on a goal, I’m not really sure she thought she could achieve and then really step up and do it.”
A drive from kindergarten
Keegan was exposed to field hockey at a very young age. Her mother, Abby, was an assistant coach for the St. Francis De Sales Catholic School team since Keegan was in kindergarten.
Abby loved field hockey and wanted to help coach Keegan when she was older.
Naturally, Keegan was with her mother while she was coaching the fifth through eighth graders at the time and took to the sport right away.
“She would pick up the stick and be driving the ball and the fifth through eighth graders at the time were like, ‘Wow, she can hit it so hard already,’ ” Abby says. “She was only kindergarten or second grade. She just had so much fun being out there.”
From there, Abby only attempted to nurture the relationship with hockey.
But as good as a defensive midfielder as Keegan had become — winning Bayside Souther Defensive Player of the Year twice — it was not field hockey that gave her a defensive tenacity.
“I think my defensive stuff started with soccer,” she says. “When I played soccer in middle school and elementary school I played center defense. I think that just carried over. … I like being the support. Scoring goals is great, it’s the best feeling, but also when you get to save goals and support the team from the back — it’s just really rewarding.”
While Steve was most proud of the academic and athletic accomplishment as a package, Abby said it is how coachable Keegan has always been. The midfielder had all the talent she needed, but never acted like she was good enough.
That mentality led to her success on the field and in the classroom, Abby says.
Her club coach saw it, too.
“Every time she comes off the field she wants to know what she needs to do next time, and she can take the criticism,” Bradford said.
The team-first approach paired with a quick first step and ability to go full speed and keep the ball on her stick like there is a string attached is what makes Keegan such a special field hockey player, Bradford says.
“There are not many players that can be as good as Keegan is and still be humble and understand that she still has to work hard,” Bradford says.
So with 31/2 months of school left, leaving her time to “mess things up,” Keegan only needs to work hard for a little bit longer.
“I knew from the time I was a freshman that I really wanted to try and play in college,” Keegan says. “I guess, the fact that I get to play at a D-I — Ivy League is just making it even better.”
Yeah, a few more months of hard work won’t be a problem.
On Twitter/Instagram: @DTimes_Marshall