After four seasons in college, two national titles and only four losses, the final game of Lauren Brown’s soccer career at Williams College came down penalty kicks in the driving rain against arch rival Middlebury.
Brown, who is originally from Shamong, N.J. and moved to Yardley, Pa. with her family when she started high school at Pennington School, was in line to take a kick but didn’t need to take a spot kick in the end. A save by goalkeeper Olivia Barnhill in the fifth round ended the game and made Brown a Division III national champion for the third time.
“That moment was pretty surreal, I pretty much just broke down in tears, just so happy and overwhelmed,” she said. “When I saw my family in the stands I got even more emotional, they’ve been the rocks throughout my career.”
Brown was a reserve midfielder her first season, making only five appearances during the first national title run, but became a regular her sophomore season when the team lost in the national final to Messiah and played every game of her junior and senior seasons. The only other losses during her time in Massachusetts all came against Middlebury, including a 1-0 loss in the conference championship in November.
“Being able to play Middlebury in the final was a big send off,” she said.
Some key injuries threatened to derail the team’s journey back to the final this year, but that was where the experience of Brown and her six classmates came into play, leading the team back to the pinnacle of college soccer. The senior class ended their time at Williams with an 80-4-9 record.
“This year was pretty much the best and most difficult year of my career,” Brown said. “Difficult in that we had plenty of injuries and because of that had to change up our lineup a lot and deal with some small dynamic issues because of that. There were really just problem solving pieces along the whole way and I definitely at times thought ‘wow, it’s going to take a lot for us to get back there.’”
The lone player from the Philadelphia area on the squad, Brown’s soccer journey is one with deep ties on both sides of the Delaware River. She started out playing for Indian Mills Soccer Club in New Jersey with her dad, Ken Brown, as one of her coaches and later played for Millville SC and FC Bucks while also participating in the New Jersey Olympic Development Program. She starred at Pennington School in high school, where she was on teams that won three state championships.
She credits her dad, who played at Lehigh University in the early ‘90s, with passing on his love of the game and her whole family for the many sacrifices made and the long hours commuting to training — about 90 minutes to training with FC Bucks twice a week and games on weekends when they still lived in Shamong.
“He tried having a soccer ball at our feet when we were young,” Brown said of her dad. “But both my parents and my entire family have been so supportive; they watch every one of my games, are the first to text me or call me after each game and my dad and siblings were able to come down to UNCG for the final four, which was an amazing experience.”
Ken Brown experienced a wide range of emotions himself the night of the final.
“The range of emotions was unbelievable, from sadness knowing her career was coming to a end, to nervousness over her last collegiate game coming down to PKs for a national championship, to complete joy that I got to experience such a wonderful ride from an amazing career,” Ken Brown said.
He was also relieved because of some nagging injuries his daughter has dealt with over her time in college.
“For the last four years (she) has endured a blood circulatory issue, tendonitis in both Achilles and shin splints,” he said. “Lu had to rehab before every practice and game for her entire collegiate career so she could play for her coach and teammates at Williams.”
She already has a job as a quantitative data analyst lined up in Boston when she graduates in May so with soccer over now her focus has shifted to finishing out her final semester. Looking back on her successful playing career that ended the way so many players can only dream, she said she’ll have way more than just the three national titles to cherish.
“Even beyond all this success there’s these lifelong relationships I’ve been able to cultivate,” she said. “I’m really just so so thankful but also sad that I can’t be on this journey anymore with this second family I’ve been able to have here at Williams.”