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Know Your Knight: The Last Line of Defense

Ahead of The American Athletic Conference Tournament, read DeLisle’s journey to become the shutdown goalkeeper she is today.

UCF Women’s Soccer Caroline DeLisle
Caroline DeLisle
Photo courtesy: UCF Athletics

Mike DeLisle said his friend would probably kill him if he told this story, but it was what came to his mind.

DeLisle was throwing the football with his friend, Chase, and his younger sister, Caroline, who was in 8th grade at this point. As he tells it, on one particular throw, Caroline, the 8th grader, went up and caught the ball over Chase’s, the college freshman’s, head.

“She totally Mossed him,” DeLisle said.

Years later, Caroline DeLisle now goes up for a different kind of ball.

The redshirt junior goalkeeper for the UCF Knights Women’s Soccer team is the latest in a long legacy of successful goalkeepers. With an American Athletic Conference Tournament tilt on the road against Memphis Sunday, DeLisle will once again defend the net to keep the team’s postseason hopes alive.

However, before all of that, she was just having a great time playing sports with her older brother.

Despite a five-year age gap, Mike and Caroline DeLisle’s common love for sports and athletics brought the two together.

“We had a bonus room where half the things were broken, from soccer balls and lacrosse balls and everything, but that’s what we did,” Caroline DeLisle said. “My parents were always like, ‘Just go outside and play.’ So, we could entertain ourselves for hours on end.”

Though she did mention U.S. Women’s Soccer national team goalkeeper Hope Solo, DeLisle said that her brother was always the one she would chase after in terms of athletic idols.

“It sounds kind of cliché, but my older brother was who I wanted to be,” DeLisle said. “He played a ton of sports and he was just, I mean, so cool. He’s five years older than me, so he was just so cool in my eyes.”

Mike DeLisle, who played club lacrosse at Florida State and currently works for Young Life, a Christian ministry, said that, looking back, he sort of recognized the impact he was having on his younger sister, though not knowing the magnitude of what that impact would be. For him, it was just something fun he got to do with his little sister.

“I feel like anytime someone looks up to you, you make a difference in their lives, that’s a really special thing,” DeLisle said. “But when someone can run with it and be as successful as she has and in a way where she is an incredible person.”

At around the same time she was Mossing college freshman, Caroline DeLisle was also beginning to commit to the position she currently holds today, goalkeeper. While she still played outside hitter in volleyball and quarterback in flag football as she started high school, she said that by the end of her sophomore year, she knew that goalkeeping in soccer would take her “the furthest.”

“I really rode out the multi-sport athlete as long as I could,” DeLisle said. “I loved it. I wished I could have kept playing all throughout high school, but I think I was starting to fall in love with the position of goalkeeper.”

Plus, it did not hurt that she would be in a position that required her to make diving plays.

“I think this sounds silly, but it’s true,” DeLisle said. “I’ve always loved the idea of diving and flying around and, pretty much, doing things that people don’t think I could.”

The decision proved to be a wise one since she would end up getting the attention of UCF Women’s Soccer head coach Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak and goalkeeping coach Chris Cummings.

After clicking with the two coaches and considering the campus’ proximity to her hometown, Tampa, which allowed her family to see her play more often, DeLisle chose UCF and arrived on campus for her true freshman year in 2018.

While she redshirted the 2018 season, she got to learn from one of her predecessors in the pantheon of all-time great UCF goalkeepers, then-senior Vera Varis. DeLisle said she never saw the type of intensity and intentionality Varis exhibited in her training.

“I think that was super cool to see like ‘Oh, she comes in every day and is focusing on something specific to get better at, and it was like ‘That is what I want my trainings to look like,’” DeLisle said.

While DeLisle described her technique as a freshman as “we’re still getting there” and that she was “flying all over the place” and didn’t know what she was doing, Varis, now playing soccer professionally in Sweden, had a much higher opinion of the freshman DeLisle.

“In my eyes, Caroline was a complete goalkeeper already as a freshman,” Varis said. “She had good distribution, was good in the air and in shot-stopping. The thing I loved the most was the positive energy she brought to the keeper trainings and her willingness to learn!”

Watch highlights of DeLisle’s 10-save performance against USF from 2019 above.

DeLisle assumed Varis’ position in 2019 and began to establish her own place in the female goalkeeping legacy at UCF. Going into Sunday’s match against Memphis, DeLisle has totaled 155 career saves, already placing her on the Top 10 all-time career saves list.

In addition, according to Sahaydak on the Black and Gold Banneret Podcast back in August, DeLisle has three years of eligibility left (counting this current season she just played) thanks to her redshirt and the extra COVID-year. Should she play these seasons, it would only be a matter of time before DeLisle passes Varis, who left UCF with 177 career saves.

“In my brain, I’m still the little 18-year old that came when Vera was a senior,” DeLisle said. “I don’t think that will ever resonate in my brain that I could be above her in things.”

While DeLisle’s growth as an athlete has led her to the UCF Women’s Soccer record books, the young woman that said she didn’t think she had the right to tell people what to do has grown in her leadership capabilities.

“I think there’s a confidence and an assertiveness that maybe wasn’t there, or that was there, but not to the level that it is now,” Mike DeLisle said.

There are two aspects to DeLisle as a leader with the first revolving around leading-by-example, which Sahaydak highlighted after this season’s match with South Florida.

“She leads by example, she comes up big when she needs to, and we’re lucky to have her,” Sahaydak said. “She’s just a great leader and a super huge inspiration for all her teammates.”

The other part was what DeLisle described as interpersonal. She said that she has the sentence “No One Should Feel Alone” written on her schedule taped to her wall.

“I think that’s something that I’ve taken into my leadership where it’s like, I want everyone on the team to feel seen and known and I think that will translate into soccer and getting the best out of them for soccer,” DeLisle said.

It’s this part of DeLisle’s growth in her time that UCF that her brother is the proudest of.

“Sometimes it seems like it takes a certain level of narcissism and self-centeredness to get the most out of yourself and she isn’t that,” Mike DeLisle said. “She’s very selfless, and loves the people around her really well.”

DeLisle said a huge part of being a goalkeeper was figuring out one’s mantra, which could be different depending on the person. College soccer does not afford her the time to “fall in a hole for a few minutes and then dig myself back out,” so she came up with a mantra that helped her keep her head in the game, no matter what.

“I always tell myself it’s a 0-0 game and just focus on what I can do,” DeLisle said. “So, that’s very much where I found that I do the best because whether we’re up 3-0 or down 3-0, I can’t start thinking about what this means for conference or what this means for something else. I just need to stay in it for 90 minutes, and so that helps me kind of walk into the zone and just stay where I need to be.”

She said that every goalkeeper feels it, the pressure that their actions and play will be the determining factor in whether their team wins or loses. With the team heading to Memphis for the Opening Round of the American Athletic Conference tournament in a season where the UCF offense has shot 77 fewer goals than it did in 2019, DeLisle’s defense of the net could very well prove instrumental, as it has been all season, to the Knights’ ultimate postseason fate.

However, DeLisle said that coming to terms with such pressures has been a defining thing for her and helped her find the confidence to embrace the position that she loves and be the last line of defense.

“I love being athletic and just doing crazy stuff,” DeLisle said. “That was what goalkeeping was and what it presented me with.”

Watch Caroline DeLisle’s full interview with Eric Lopez and Bryson Turner here: