A Champion is often defined as a person who fights, a warrior, to defy or challenge, exceeding all others. Some people think a champion is defined by rings or trophies, but the truth is a champion is defined by the effect they had on their sport and more important the people they touched. I had the honor to coach a true champion.
In the spring of 2000 I became the Head Coach at LSU. When I first got to LSU I knew that my first recruiting class would have to be great, I knew that I would have to start by getting the best kids in Louisiana to stay home. The best goalkeeper in the state and the region was a girl named Robyn DesOrmeaux. I had never met her or seen her play but knew that she would be the cornerstone of my first class. I soon called her to only find out that she was a Tiger even before I called and within minutes committed to LSU.
In our first preseason, I saw what a great goalkeeper Robyn was and could become. But very soon into preseason I received a call from Robyn telling me that she had hurt her knee and would be out for possibly the season. Only it hadn’t been a drill with a strength coach or a collision in a scrimmage, as Robyn calmly explained to me that she had been hit by a friend at Bible study while backing them out of a parking spot. Robyn was very disappointed but she didn’t let that stop her from being a leader for our team and helping us go 15-4 and finding a place in the SEC quarter finals. When I say Robyn helped us, I mean she helped. Our goalkeepers at the time needed a leader, someone to turn to when times were tough, and they found one in a freshman goalkeeper that had not even made it through preseason.
In 2002, we knew it was our time to make a slash. We still had a young team and I knew that to win at this level your team needed a big time goalkeeper, and we had one! We had beat then top 20 Florida State 2-1, thanks to Robyn, tied University of Florida in Gainesville, but true greatness from Robyn in the goal was yet to come. On Friday November 8, 2002 at the SEC tournament, we would be playing against the SEC regular season champs and the SEC Player of the Year, Sara Steinmann. Steinmann had 7 shots on goal but was shutout by Robyn. On that night Robyn put us on her back and beat Auburn 1-0 marking the first time in SEC history an 8th seed would beat a #1. What a night, what a game, what a great goalkeeper!!
By the time her career was over, Robyn was LSU’s winningest goalkeeper. My hope and dream for Robyn was to play in the WUSA with Mia Hamm but that was not to be. In her senior year, she spent most of the time in the training room with a lot of back pain. I was mad and disappointed, my best player can’t play and we needed her. Without Robyn in goal our season was not what we wanted but with every senior’s last game we let them play. Robyn played forward scoring 2 goals. What a great memory seeing that smile not knowing the horrible pain that Robyn had going on inside of her. Shortly after the season, Robyn was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, but I only knew it as cancer, a cancer that was killing one of my players.
In the spring on 2005, my family and I left LSU. I watched and listen to Robyn fight like a champion against this cancer for 5 years. When we would talk on the phone sometimes we could not stop laughing but we also had time when I knew her fight was getting very hard. But like true champions she would never give up until the end. I have been a coach for over 20 years and your players are part of your family. I had to help carry Robyn off the field many times in her time at LSU, and in her last wish I would carry her to her final resting place. Robyn made me a better coach, but even more so, a better father and husband. In many of our talks Robyn would remind me that it is my responsibility to not only make better players or win championships but to help make better people, to affect people’s lives because in the end, that’s the banner that will always hang.
George Fotopoulos is currently the Director of Coaching and Head Coach for Tampa Bay United and is also a member of the US Soccer National Training Center Staff. George has been involved with coaching on several levels for 20+ years and holds the USSF “A” License, NSCAA Premier Diploma and the USSF National Goalkeeper License.