By: Justin Lafleur, Lehigh Sports Media Relations
The Lehigh women's soccer team features 27 players, but on Senior Night against Army, senior captain Jordan Goodwin delivered a powerful message to her teammates.
"Tonight, we're playing for 28 people," she said before opening kickoff.
That 28th person is Margaret "Margie" Wiegand, mother of senior Darby Wiegand.
"Everyone always asks me why I play soccer and the expected answer is that I play for the love of the game and I play for me," said Darby. "That's not the case. I play soccer in memory of my mother. That's going to be the hardest thing to leave behind come November."
Before Darby's junior year of high school, her mother passed away from breast cancer. With her mother's memory as the driving force, Darby explored playing in college. Ultimately, Margaret was the reason Darby began playing soccer in elementary school, so she wanted to continue playing for her mother.
"My mom wasn't there during the college search process, but I just told myself that she would have wanted me to do this. She invested so much time into me, so it's time for me to be strong, time for me to let go and start searching in her honor," said Darby.
Soccer has served as a medium to connect with her mother, and an escape, all at the same time. Margaret was a standout field hockey player at the University of Maryland and encouraged Darby to play sports. She was Darby's first-ever soccer coach in elementary school and was Darby's biggest supporter.
"My mom took me to all my practices and tournaments," said Wiegand. "She was always on the sidelines, but was silent and never yelling."
Margaret endured a lengthy struggle with cancer. She was diagnosed when Darby was in elementary school.
"My parents kept it under wraps," said Darby. "I had no idea how bad it was. My teachers tried to keep information away from me because my mom didn't want us to know."
At one point, Margaret was told she had just a few years to live, but ended up living more than seven years instead. It was a testament to her strength and resilience. As Darby said, "she was a fighter."
Margaret's condition started going downhill during Darby's sophomore year of high school. By that time, Darby had come to realize the magnitude of the situation.
"It was getting pretty bad," said Wiegand. "By high school, I was old enough to grasp what was happening. My dad was more open with us, but you could also tell from my mom that things were worsening. It's not something she could hide anymore, especially when she had to lose her hair. That's when it really hit home that something's not right; it's not good."
Margaret passed away during the recruiting process. At the time, Darby understandably didn't want to think about soccer.
"I told myself I can't worry about soccer, but my coaches explained that they'd help me," said Wiegand. "My coaches helped me make a list of schools, which I visited with my dad. Lehigh is a perfect combination of athletics and academics. At the time, academics were my main focus, but the more I thought, the more I realized it would be such a waste not to play soccer in college. I knew my mom would want me to do this."
Now a senior, Wiegand has enjoyed a stellar collegiate career… and it's not over. Darby owns 10 career goals and two assists, including four goals and one assist this season. Soccer has served many purposes.
"Soccer was another way to make friends outside of my small community," said Wiegand. "It was also a great way to stay in line, especially come high school. It kept me responsible; it taught me a lot of skills that I've carried throughout my life - like leadership, how to be part of a team and how to be confident. Most of all, I love soccer because of the team."
Darby's Lehigh teammates have become family, which made this year's Senior Night Game versus Army extra special.
"When I think of Darby, I think of the word strong," said junior Katie Centeno. "Darby is inspiring to all of us. She didn't talk much about Senior Night as it was approaching, but she did mention to a few teammates how hard it was going to be not having her mother there. As underclassmen, we decided we needed to honor her mother as a team on this special night."
Darby was caught off guard when she entered the locker room that evening to a sign reading "Let's Kick Cancer's Butt" with her mother's initials MSW (Margaret Stohlman Wiegand).
"I had no idea what the team was doing," said Wiegand. "I lost it. It was so sweet."
The team also wore pink wristbands featuring MSW and Darby wore a special pink headband with her mom's initials.
"All 27 of us were playing with her mom in mind and used Darby's strength to get us through the night," said Centeno. "I remember getting chills watching Darby take perfect touch after perfect touch knowing how proud her mom must be watching her daughter continue to play the game that she loves in her honor. I know Darby has a beautiful guardian angel watching over her, who must be incredibly proud of the selfless, determined, strong woman she has become."
Even though her mother wasn't physically with Darby on Senior Night, she was undoubtedly there in spirit.
"Senior Night is a time to celebrate how far you've come in your soccer career with the people who helped you get there," said Goodwin. "Darby's mom has played a huge role in the person she is today, so it was really special to honor her mom that night. Darby handled herself with poise throughout the night, as she does with everything in her life. It was an honor to wear a wristband with her mother's initials."
Coaches and teammates say Darby is wise beyond her years. She is also resilient in all areas, from the classroom to the soccer field and everything in between.
"This situation has not only made me incredibly strong as an individual, but it's also made me very perceptive," said Darby. "I always take time to understand each player on my team. I know their strengths, I know their weaknesses. I am very perceptive as an individual and I think a lot of it stems from my mom. I learned a lot of these skills from her, especially being strong."
Darby has received perspective from the situation and has used that perspective to better herself.
"I'll often think something is hard, but then I think about what my mom went through. I say that to myself, which helps me get through anything," she said.
Margaret's legacy has lasted through Darby and one continual connection between the mother and daughter is soccer. Darby will never forget the memories of her mother which stem from soccer.
"In middle and high school, whenever I would do well, my mom would always take me for ice cream," she said. "It was always fun to travel to away tournaments because she had no sense of direction so we'd always get lost. I would always say 'mom, you know, we have a GPS.' She'd be like, 'I don't need to use that; I know where I'm going.' It was always fun to be on those car rides."
Wiegand and the Mountain Hawks hope to keep their season going as long as possible. Lehigh enters Saturday's game at Holy Cross in sixth place in the Patriot League standings, needing a win to ensure its second league tournament berth in the last three years.
"You couldn't have asked for anything better this season," said Wiegand. "We've taken time to get to know each other on a personal level. Everyone knows what happened and they're always there for me."
Beyond Lehigh, Darby looks to use her mother's advice in the professional world. A Supply Chain Management major with a 3.75 cumulative GPA, Wiegand's goal is to find a profession which makes her happy.
As Darby's mother told her: "Do what you love because life is too short."
While funds are being put to breast cancer research, one thing people can do until there's a cure is live life to the fullest. That's something Margaret certainly did, which she passed on to her daughter.
"Right now, I'm exploring options to find the right fit," said Darby, who is looking between consulting and supply chain positions. "I want to do something different, try something new, take a risk and meet new people."
For now, Wiegand's focus is squarely on the present and continuing her soccer career for as long as possible.
"Darby went through something that nobody should ever have to go through," said Goodwin. "I admire her for her resilience and I know this team is better because of Darby's character and maturity."
"Darby is one of the most mature and self-aware student-athlete I have ever coached," said Lehigh head coach Eric Lambinus. "She has a certain calmness about her that probably comes from the inner strength that she's gained from her mother. I can only imagine her mom is looking down with pride at the person Darby has become."
"Every game, I play for my mom and every game is a special connection with her," said Wiegand. "The longer it can go, the better."