Fifty minutes and 50 seconds into Longwood women’s soccer’s Big South opener against Gardner-Webb this past Saturday, a party broke out. A go-ahead goal early in the second half opened up a scoreless draw, acting as a release valve for more than 50 minutes worth of frustration the Lancers built up during a one-sided but fruitless first half against the Runnin’ Bulldogs.
When Longwood finally got on the board, doing so on their 12th shot of the game, high-fives and hugs abounded on the field in celebration of a 1-0 lead that would eventually balloon to 5-0 before the final whistle.
However, amid that on-field hoopla, one Lancer’s celebration went beyond typical in-game excitement. The goal-scorer herself, sophomore forward Sheyenne Stretz, was joyously teary-eyed as she jogged back to line up next to her teammates.
Certainly the goal was a big one for Stretz, her first of the season, but her reaction wasn’t to what she had just done. It was because of who had seen her do it.
“When I got back to midfield, a couple tears streamed down, and when I came off it really hit me,” Stretz said. “A couple teammates knew. They were with me and supported me. [Associate head coach] Rich [Stoneman] came up and hugged me.”
What her fellow Lancers knew was that thousands of miles and numerous time zones away, Air Force staff sergeant Harry Stretz witnessed the same thing they just had. In the midst of a lengthy deployment in the Middle East, Stretz’ father had tuned in to the Big South Network to watch his daughter drive home the game-winning goal in Longwood’s most dominant conference win of their five-year Big South era.
Two minutes later he saw his daughter engineer another goal, taking a shot that generated the rebound that her classmate Kathryn Miller punched in for a 2-0 lead.
He saw Sheyenne celebrate Longwood’s season-best five goals with her teammates in a win that signified a turning of the tide for the hard-luck Lancers, who lost four non-conference games by one goal but now begin conference play with back-to-back wins.
Staff sergeant Harry Stretz saw his daughter do all that in her first start of the season and then delivered to her the biggest moment of her night via text message.
“He was really excited,” said Sheyenne, who received a text from her father after the game. “He said he was very proud, but he was sad he couldn’t be there. He was happy he got to see it.”
For a father who has long been a mainstay in the stands at his daughter’s soccer games, Sheyenne admits her dad’s absence has been noticeable this season. His tour of duty started before Sheyenne’s sophomore season began, limiting contact with his family primarily to text-based communication ever since.
“I’m able to text him every day, and he has Facebook so we’re able to communicate a lot on that,” Sheyenne said. “But he hasn’t been able to call in a while; it’s been about two or three months since I’ve actually talked to him on the phone.”
However, thanks to his Air Force base’s WiFi and the in-house broadcasts produced by Longwood athletics staff members, students and director Seth Wood of Swood Media, Harry has at least been able to watch his daughter on the Big South Network. The most recent of those productions Saturday featured 41 minutes of Sheyenne, who over the past two games has emerged as a key piece of Longwood’s front line rotation with 40-plus minutes in each of those back-to-back wins.
Through the first nine games of her sophomore season, Stretz is fulfilling the potential head coach Todd Dyer saw in her as a prep standout at Kellam High School in Virginia Beach, Va. She has put a career-high six of her eight shots on goal while playing in all but one game, earning her first career game-winning goal this past Saturday in her second career start.
But Sheyenne, a criminology and criminal justice major, acknowledges that whether she starts or comes off the bench, plays 90 minutes or zero, her father is always on her mind.
“Before every game, I pray that he stays safe,” she said. “I know he’s there in spirit.”
However, being there in spirit is not as rewarding as being there in person for Harry. His absence often leaves him as the lone Lancer cheering on his daughter from halfway across the world, and this past Saturday he was alone in celebrating Sheyenne’s second career goal, at least on his base.
“It is exciting, but yet empty,” Harry said in a text message. “No one to cheer with, no one to celebrate with, and empty arms after the game, win or lose.”
Harry’s return to the United States and the Stretz’ Virginia Beach, Va., home will not come for many months. By the time he gets back, his daughter’s sophomore season will most likely be over. Based on the level at which she played in the conference opener, Sheyenne may have many more goals to brag to him about.
She can get her hugs and high-fives from her dad then. And at least then they can catch up on the highlights, on the field and off.