Ten years after women's soccer won the program's first and only Patriot League Championship, Lehighsports.com is catching up with members of the team to find out what they're up to and looking back to the 2010 season, and their careers in the Brown and White.
By: Justin Lafleur, Lehigh Sports Communications
Genna Pepe's position as an assistant principal often reminds her of her days as a student-athlete.
"We do a lot of video observations of classroom instruction, taking a step back and watching through the lesson together," she said. "I always tell my teachers this is exactly what we did in college, before a game or after a game, taking yourself out of the lesson (or out of the situation) and analyzing it to reflect and grow for next time."
It reminds Pepe of sitting in head coach Eric Lambinus' office to watch individual film, or watching film as a team.
"The push to communicate with others was also something I took away from being part of Lehigh Athletics' Leadership Academy (now called Flight 45) – really honing your public speaking and presence in front of others," said Pepe. "My role also entails putting on professional development for other teachers across some of our 50 schools, typically around curriculum and quality of instruction."
The Success Academy Charter Schools together make up the biggest charter school network in New York City.
As assistant principal, Pepe specifically oversees kindergarten, first and second graders.
"We have 50 schools and serve 20 thousand kids," she said. "I certainly miss teaching, but a school leadership position is more around adult management and helping adults meet the expectations that the board or common core is setting for us… and figuring out how to adapt that to virtual learning (due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
"It's definitely been a very interesting year," Pepe continued. "We have to figure out the best ways to execute instruction for 500 kids in a school, virtually."
Right now, the Success Academy Charter Schools are in the midst of full-time virtual learning.
"A few different things fall under my umbrella, the first being in charge of remote instruction and the quality of teaching and learning," said Pepe. "I'll spend part of my day joining the virtual classes my teachers are leading. I'll either go in to model a certain lesson for a teacher, to set the stage for what the quality of instruction should look like, or I'll often do teacher observations."
Pepe has also played a significant role in family partnership and advocacy work, a critical aspect of effective virtual learning.
"We work to have strong family partnerships and I believe that's one of the reasons our school network has such great virtual learning happening right now," she said.
"We have over 95 percent attendance when the city has a lot lower of a percentage. I believe most of it ties back to having strong family partnerships, constantly following up with families if they're missing virtual instruction and figuring out how we can work together to make sure their kids are attending class."
Very often, youngsters miss virtual school because of logistical issues.
"So often right now, parents are leaving their kids home with a grandparent or babysitter when they're going into work and their kids are having to navigate technology," said Pepe. "Four, five and six year olds navigating a chrome book from 9 to 4 is a lot of expectations on them, so we figure out solutions and work with city organizations to help provide support."
That support could come in many different shapes, sizes and forms.
"We are a dual mission school, so we are also focused on closing the achievement gap and making sure parents have school choice options in New York City," said Pepe.
Prior to being an assistant principal, Pepe was a teacher, which she wanted to be for as long as she remembers.
"Growing up, my sister and I would set up a whole classroom where we'd play school all the time," she said.
After graduating undergrad in 2012, Pepe stayed at Lehigh to earn her Elementary Education and Teaching master's degree (while also serving as graduate assistant soccer coach).
"Lehigh's College of Education was very supportive, informing me about the routes I could take, even as an undergrad to start on my journey," she said. "I was able to apply my junior year and start some of my education classes senior year, which allowed me to get all of my credits in across my five total years at Lehigh."
After earning her master's, Pepe remained in the Lehigh Valley at Saucon Valley School District for student teaching, then returned to New York (she grew up on Staten Island).
"I started working in the classroom with preschool and some of the younger, early elementary school grades," said Pepe. "Three years ago, I transitioned into a school administration position."
Whether she's a teacher or administrator, Pepe's passion for education remains the same.
"It's so joyful and magical working with the kids," she said. "So much of my job is making sure the whole school is set up to give them the best quality education and the best instruction possible."
Pepe also enjoys curriculum development.
"I think through the quality of a lesson, or the standards the state is setting for a certain unit, thinking about how to modify it for the differentiated learning needs in a classroom," she said. "And now, differentiating it for remote instruction. One morning, my second graders were figuring out how to convert yards and feet into virtual measurements, having to do it without any materials in front of them.
"We have to get really creative figuring out how to still teach the same instruction, but through a computer and without a lot of materials."
The pandemic has greatly reinforced the need for an open mind (especially in the field of education), which is something Pepe learned from her time at Lehigh.
"I felt like I left Lehigh with an open-mindedness," she said. "Going to a school out-of-state and meeting so many people from so many different backgrounds was one of the most eye-opening experiences. I got to interact and work so closely with the professors, coaches and staff. The diversity of people I met at Lehigh helped me understand what life is like outside of New York."
Lehigh helped broaden Pepe's perspective.
"I often look back at my time and see so much of a transformation in myself, just as a person from the time I got to Lehigh until the time I left," she said.
In between that time, a significant moment happened. Pepe was an integral part of the Mountain Hawks' 2010 Patriot League Championship, the program's first in program history. Pepe tallied a career-high seven points during that season, including an assist on the game's only goal in the title game victory at Army.
"One of the biggest factors for our success was truly just the relationships," she said. "We were not only very close as friends, but we also really understood each other as players. We understood how the other 10 people on the field, or the other 20 girls on the team, played and were able to anticipate the space on the field."
The 2010 team featured a number of experienced juniors, seniors and fifth-year players.
"We had a lot of time together to understand each other as players and build that relationship on the field," said Pepe. "By the time 2010 came around, we had been playing together for so long and were able to take it to the next level."
The 2010 season brought an interesting dynamic – a group of experienced student-athletes, coupled with Lambinus' first season at Lehigh (he came in with more than a decade of head coaching experience at Moravian College).
"It definitely does not surprise me that Genna has found so much success as an educator," said Lambinus. "She made one of the smoothest transitions from being a student-athlete to becoming our graduate assistant coach during her senior year. Genna has a great ability to read people and develop strong bonds, even though it sometimes takes time to gain her trust.
"I laugh about her development because she literally did not talk to me for about two months when I was first named the coach of the program and in just two years, she grew into a great captain and assistant coach with the program," he continued. "That doesn't happen without development and trust. To this day, I can honestly say that Genna is one of the best soccer players I have coached, and more importantly, someone who always made everyone around her better, including myself."
Today, with Pepe's background as an educator, she has even greater appreciation for Lambinus' leadership in that unique situation.
"It can be intimidating to come into any team as a new coach, a tenured team and a team that's really hungry for something (a championship)," she said. "I believe Coach struck such a good balance of taking the time to get to know the players and understand us as people, on and off the field. He didn't come in and just enforce his will. He valued what our senior members had to say and worked collaboratively with them, and with us, to set a collective vision."
That approach helped the entire team buy in to the team's direction and how they'd get from point a to point b.
"We were so bought into Coach because he was so bought into us," said Pepe. "He didn't shy away from making hard decisions."
The energy around the team was obvious and palpable.
"We had great leadership, from the coaches to upperclassmen, who constantly reminded us what we were capable of," said Pepe. "There was constant positivity and motivation. What I remember most from that season is the constant belief and momentum we continued to ride, all the way through the Patriot League Tournament."
There could be a belief in each other because at the core of the program was accountability.
"Whether it was working out in the weight room, doing film review or summer training, there was a different energy and dynamic in the ways we held each other accountable," said Pepe.
Pepe felt support in every part of her Lehigh student-athlete experience, which ultimately helped her learn and grow as a person, setting the foundation for a lifetime of leadership.
"In a university with some large class sizes, you don't always get that individualized push from professors or coaches, but at Lehigh, there was so much opportunity for focused attention on your leadership development," said Pepe. "Coach believed in me as a leader before I even believed in myself, and really pushed me to go outside my comfort zone in communication and the way I talked to the team and led the team."
Pepe admitted those moments were often uncomfortable, but she wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
"It was some of the best years of personal development," she said.
"I am so grateful for everything at Lehigh and also grateful for the soccer and athletics programs because it helped me develop into the person and educator I am today."