It took two tries, but soccer worked out for South Meck goalkeeper Lilly Heaslet

Soccer was not one of those “love-at-first-sight” things for Lilly Heaslet.

“My parents put me in a soccer program when I was around 4 years old,” she said. “It didn’t take.”

She tried the sport again a few years later, and the results have been remarkable.

Heaslet, a South Mecklenburg High senior, is among the region’s — and maybe the state’s — top goalkeepers. A two-time all-conference player, she is the glue for a Sabres defense that has allowed only seven goals in 14 matches this season.

South Meck’s goalie Lilly Heaslet kicks the ball into play during the varsity women’s soccer game against Myers Park on Friday, April, 19, 2024.
South Meck’s goalie Lilly Heaslet kicks the ball into play during the varsity women’s soccer game against Myers Park on Friday, April, 19, 2024.

“By any definition, she is a big-time keeper,” said South Mecklenburg coach Bryan Murray, whose team is 9-2-3 overall, and 6-1 in the SoMeck 4A Conference.

She also is a future ACC player, having committed last summer to Syracuse.

All of this is because some youth coach about a decade ago made a wise decision.

“I came back and tried soccer again when I was in fourth grade,” Heaslet said. “They put me in goal, and I liked it. That’s where I’ve stayed.”

Heaslet played a season of recreational-level soccer and quickly graduated to higher levels in the sport. For the past several seasons, she has played with the Charlotte Development Academy program.

Being a soccer goalkeeper means being able to flick the “on” and “off” switches quickly. There can be lengthy stretches of a match when all the action is at the other end of the pitch. Goalkeepers can feel as if the action is taking place in another ZIP code. Then, in a moment, it can all change.

“I try to keep myself involved, even when the play is at the other end,” said Heaslet, a two-sport star who was among the SoMeck 4A’s leaders in rebounding and steals during the basketball season.

She will wander 20 or 25 yards away from the goal and offer advice for the Sabres’ defenders and midfielders.

“I try to communicate,” she said. “That helps keep me in the middle of things.”

When it’s time to flick the “on” switch, Heaslet is ready.

In the closing moments of Friday night’s 1-0 double-overtime victory against Myers Park, Heaslet sprang to action when the Mustangs took control of the ball, quickly pushed it into the South Mecklenburg zone, and threatened.

A Mustang player launched a 20-foot shot straight at Heaslet, who dived to her right and batted it away. But the rebound bounced out to Myers Park’s leading scorer, Amaya Falzarano.

“I was still on the ground, and I saw it bounce out to Amaya,” Heaslet said. “I did what I could.”

What Heaslet did, while on her knees, was lunge to her right again and stop a shot by Falzarano.

“It was as if Lilly said, “I want to be the best keeper in the state,’ “ Murray said afterward.

Murray and his team are fortunate to have a pair of outstanding goalkeepers, as Heaslet has missed a few Sabres’ matches this season due to commitments with the Charlotte Development Academy team. Backup Carly MacLean-Voltz has allowed only one goal in 343 minutes in goal.

Occasionally, an opponent will get the ball past Heaslet, who has played in most of the Sabres’ toughest matches this season and has a 1.00 goals-allowed average.

“When that happens, it’s time for that quote from Ted Lasso,” Heaslet said, referring to the fictional Premier League soccer coach portrayed by Jason Sudeikis on the Apple TV series.

“He says, ‘Be a goldfish,’ “ Heaslet noted.

It means a goldfish has a short memory — and so must a goalkeeper who lets one get by.

“In this position, you have lots of time to let things get into your head,” Heaslet said. “When you allow a goal, you’ve got to press the reset button.”

She said she and her teammates believe this could be a special season for South Mecklenburg.

“Look at what our boys’ team did,” Heaslet said, referring to the Sabre boys’ soccer squad that completed an unlikely run to the 4A state championship last fall, winning every playoff match on the road as the No. 27 seed. “We feel we can duplicate that.”

And when it’s all over in a month or so, Heaslet will turn her attention to graduation, and then playing soccer up north.

“I wasn’t really familiar with Syracuse University originally,” she said. “But they reached out, and I realized what a really nice school it is.”

“It felt like home,” Heaslet said of the school. “There’s a lot of school spirit, and the coaching staff was very nice. I’ll be able to play in the ACC.”

“But we have business to take care of here first,” she added.