Navigating through the pathway of life is a different experience for everyone based on background, family, relationships, and countless other things that may be out of any individual’s control. One thing that is always under an individual’s control is the mindset one chooses to take in everything life has to offer.
SRU Senior defender Brooke Riefenstahl carries her positive outlook into everything she decides to undertake. She is always looking to learn from every experience.
Riefenstahl had a decorated high school career as a versatile multi-sport student athlete. She was a four-year letter winner in soccer and track and field while also lettering in basketball and lacrosse.
She accrued three separate Colonial League All-star honors for soccer, was placed on the All-Area team in soccer, lacrosse, and track & field, and was a member of a record-setting 1,600-meter relay team at Saucon Valley high school.
Additionally, she helped her school to 2017 and 2019 girls’ lacrosse District XI championships, played soccer for Harleysville FC and Keystone Athletic club teams, and earned both High-honors and AP Scholar honors academically.
After high school, Riefenstahl’s college decision was made shortly after her parents shared the idea of going to Slippery Rock University with her. She was quickly drawn in by the well-known exercise science program and the friendly atmosphere created around the soccer team by head coach Jessica Giegucz and others.
“After I got to meet Jessie and the coaches and the rest of the team I just really, really, liked the team and the program… From my first time here, I knew this is where I wanted to be,” Riefenstahl said.
Her decision was immediately rewarded with a team trip to Costa Rica. Riefenstahl’s mentality of always putting in effort to learn how to be a better human and player came in handy. It was especially valuable because the freshmen hardly knew anyone else.
In Costa Rica, the girls did two service activities at two schools over the course of a week and a half. Riefenstahl made sure to emphasize how the exposure to different communities than the one’s she had seen before changed her perception of her own life.
“Knowing how much of a positive impact it had on their lives, it kind of like, just gave me a new perspective about life… Not everyone has it as easy as you have it… there’s always people who have a lot harder of a background,” Riefenstahl said.
The unique experience also undoubtedly strengthened the team’s bonds with each other. Riefenstahl shared that she believes the trip gave The Rock a head start on pre-season and a much needed cooperation boost heading into the season.
“That week and a half, it felt like after that we had known each other for much longer than just that week and a half,” Riefenstahl said.
After joining The Rock, Riefenstahl started all 22 games as a true freshman and captured first team All-PSAC West honors after being part of a defensing unit who finished second in the PSAC in scoring margin (+1.73) and tied for 3rd in shutouts with 8.
She also roomed with and began to build a close bond with forward Kayla Swope. Riefenstahl expressed the talent she always saw in Swope.
“Kayla, I just don’t even know how she does some of the things that she does,” Riefenstahl said.
The excitement from her many achievements might have been matched by the visit to Slippery Rock University from Alex Morgan. Morgan is a member of the United States women’s national soccer team and has been an inspiration to young women playing soccer for years.
“It was such a cool experience… another memory that I will have forever,” Riefenstahl said.
During Riefenstahl’s freshman year, she had a multitude of upperclassmen, including Senior forward Tyler Spence, to look up to. These upperclassmen filled the position of role model for both play style and attitude.
“It was intimidating at first, but they made the environment so welcoming,” Riefenstahl said.
Riefenstahl also communicated that she learned some very important lessons from junior midfielder Shannon McIntyre about becoming closer with her teammates and coaches.
“She just honestly showed me like how important forming relationships are… Our team is a lot more than just the soccer team, we’re like a family on and off the field,” Riefenstahl said.
This all came in a year of great organizational success for SRU. The team finished with a 15-3 record that placed them in both the PSAC tournament and NCAA Division II tournament. This would translate into three victories. Most important was the 2-1 PSAC Championship win over Edinboro.
“Getting to compete for a PSAC title my freshman year and getting to do it at home with a bunch of fans is something I’ll never forget,” Riefenstahl said.
The win was made even sweeter when combined with The Rock’s football team also winning their PSAC Championship just the night prior.
“The whole football team was there, and it was the day after they had won their championship,” Riefenstahl said. “Having two PSAC championship teams in a matter of two days was like one of the coolest energies that I’ve ever felt,”
Slippery Rock women’s soccer was ready to shoot for back-to-back PSAC Championships when their momentum was disrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak that shut the world down. Riefenstahl shared that everyone felt empathy for the seniors who’s planned final year was taken from them without any of their say.
“It was devastating from and individual perspective and also for our team… We wanted the chance to defend our title,” Riefenstahl said.
As always though, Riefenstahl used this as an opportunity to grow and learn. Almost everyone on the team lived on campus so they were able to get much closer by spending more time with each other. She reminisced on the time she shared playing on the field with her teammates when practices weren’t going on.
“It was like an experience I never thought I would get as a college athlete to be able to go out and like, just kick around and have fun and feel no pressure,” Riefenstahl said.
Of course, she was also as excited as anyone to get back on the field. It appeared as though there might have been another wrench thrown in the works when Riefenstahl partially tore her PCL and sprained her ACL during April of her sophomore year. Thankfully she didn’t require surgery. Regardless, it was tough on her that she was not able to participate in summer team weightlifting.
“It was the longest time I had gone without sports… Not being able to do the rest of the workouts that my team was doing over the summer was difficult,” Riefenstahl said.
There was no question about her ability to rebound, though. Riefenstahl had already developed herself as a hard worker in a program that insists on each individual being responsible for their own training and success outside of team organized practices, lifts, and games.
“We talk about self-accountability and team accountability on our team so much… [I was] doing as much as I was allowed to do while keeping myself healthy.”
Adapting to the team required more than just recovering from injury though. After missing a season to COVID-19, roughly half of the team was brand new to the returning players. Riefenstahl shared how important it was to recreate the bonds that were built with her during her freshman year with the new players.
“Strengthening the family bond that we have was important,” Riefenstahl said.
In the 2021 season, Riefenstahl appeared in 22 games and got six starts as a Junior. She was also a part of the SRU defense that led the PSAC in scoring margin with +1.65.
Despite their efforts, The Rock reached the PSAC Tournament but was unable to advance past the first round as they fell to Gannon University 3-5.
“It wasn’t a terrible season for us as a team it just wasn’t what we knew we were capable of… That was upsetting especially because we were right on the edge of like, qualifying for NCAAs,” Riefenstahl said.
Rachel Edge and Joryn Minda were two standout teammates that Riefenstahl highlighted for their accomplishments during the 2021 season.
“With Rachel and Jordyn coming into a team and having the two of them on the team, they’re two of the best teammates and soccer players,” Riefenstahl said. “Just knowing that each of them could take a game over… they had it all.”
One upside from the unfortunate end to The Rock’s 2021 was that, as the schedule for next year was released, it would be revealed that Gannon was SRU’s first PSAC opponent of 2022. Riefenstahl shared that the team used this as motivation all throughout the spring.
The momentum paid off early, but a string of early ties in 2022 didn’t do much to help playoff chances. The team was consistently in close games but just couldn’t seem to close them out.
“You wanna take the momentum and be happy with how you’ve played,” Riefenstahl said. “You have to look and realize that ok yes we played well but we’re not getting the results that we’ve wanted.”
This season, Riefenstahl accumulated two goals, 13 shots with five shots on goal, and five points during a season where she started 19 out of 19 possible games and anchored a defense that only allowed 13 goals all year.
Unfortunately, The Rock’s defensive success could only carry them so far. They made the PSAC tournament but were unable to advance past the first round as they lost 1-0 at Mercyhurst.
It may not have been ideal, but after watching some of their own teammates be forced out as a result of the COVID-19 breakout, Riefenstahl and her fellow graduating seniors will certainly be happy to go out having already won a ring.