It’s no coincidence that the Keene State College women’s soccer team made four consecutive post-season appearances, including two trips to the NCAA Division II National Tournament, during Denise Lyon’s Owl career (1986-89) And its no secret why the talented center midfielder is being inducted into the Keene State Alumni/Athletic Hall of Fame.
“Denise Lyons raised the level of women’s soccer at Keene State,’ said Dave Lombardo, Lyon’s first coach at KSC. “Because she was older player and had international experience, her ability was better than anyone on the field. She understood the game and it was like having another coach on the team.”
Born in England and raised in Newcastle West County, Limerick, Ireland, Lyons, already made a name for herself in the world of soccer long before donning a KSC uniform. The youngest player at 14 to ever play at the international level, as a member of Ireland’s national team, Lyons spent six years traveling around the world honing her skills against top competition.
Her introduction to Keene State came by accident. Playing a game against an Owl squad that had traveled to Ireland as part of the Shamrock Games exchange program, Lyons later was asked by Lombardo if she had any interest in traveling to the United States and playing for Keene State. “It was a very difficult decision, but I was ready for the next challenge in my life,” Lyons said.
Lyons joined a KSC team that was just starting to make its presence felt at as top Division II contender. Her arrival, along with former Irish national teammate and KSC Hall of Fame player Philo Robinson a year later, kicked the Owls into a higher level of play.
Helping to lead Keene State to back-to-back ECAC Championships in her first two seasons, the feisty Lyons became an emotional team leader. It was only appropriate that Lyons, who still holds the career record with 31 assists, would set up the biggest goal in the history of the program. Her perfect feed to Robinson was the difference in KSC’s dramatic 1-0 upset win over California-Dominguez Hills, which sent the Owls flying into the national championship game in 1989.
“Denise didn’t out-muscle players, she out-smarted them,” said Bert Poirer, who coached Lyons in her last season. “She had the great field vision and anticipation that made here a special player.”
“The best way to motivate me was to tell me I couldn’t do something,” Lyons said. “Give me a challenge and I’ll take it. I wanted to play at the highest level.”
And Lyons did just that. An All-America player, who also received four All-New England awards during her career, Lyons was often recognized in All-star games that included Division I players.
Later serving as an assistant and now in her 12th season as head coach of the Owls, Lyons who earned her degree in sports management in 1990, has passed on her competitive spirit to her Keene State team which has made 11 post-season trips during her successful tenure.