In the spacious backyard of the Lachowecki home in Evansville, Indiana, stand two tall oak trees that have traditionally served as the perfect place for the family’s two children — Max and Gracie — to take target practice on their father, a former pro soccer goalie.
Max, now a fourth-year starter as a defender at Notre Dame, led the Irish to their only men’s soccer national title in 2013.
Gracie, a junior and a third-year starter for the Miami Hurricanes women’s soccer team, grew up as the only girl playing with — and against — Max and their five cousins.
“It was survival of the fittest,” said their father, A.J. Lachowecki, who played for the University of Evansville before carving out a seven-year pro career in the Major Indoor Soccer League.
“Gracie was never the most technical player. But the ball would always seem to end up on her foot at the right time.”
That’s still the case. Lachowecki has been named the ACC Offensive Player of the Week for the past two weeks and ranks third in the league in goals scored with eight.
Perhaps her most dramatic goal was scored in the 106th minute of a 1-0 double-overtime win over Notre Dame on Oct. 2.
“The neighbors could probably hear us when she scored,” said A.J., who was at home with his wife Kay, watching the game on ESPN3. “It was exciting.”
Gracie was thrilled, too, especially because it came against Notre Dame. After Max signed with the Irish, she wanted to go there as well, and she had the credentials, scoring 42 goals as a senior in high school, earning Gatorade’s Player of the Year award in Indiana. Overall, she had 113 goals in her prep career.
However, by the time she chose Miami in the fall of her junior year, Notre Dame had not offered a scholarship.
“The next day after I committed to Miami, Notre Dame called and asked for my high school transcripts,” Lachowecki said. “I said: ‘Sorry, too late.”
Lachowecki committed to the Hurricanes, in part, because she loved Miami’s weather and wanted to play in the rugged ACC. She also wants to become a nurse, and Miami was the only school recruiting her that allowed her to choose such a tough major, knowing it could cost her some time on the practice field, which it has.
Miami’s flexibility clinched the deal. But a couple of months after signing with the Canes, Miami changed coaching staffs, eventually bringing in Mary-Frances Monroe.
“I was a little nervous,” Lachowecki said. “But I kept an open mind and hoped for the best.”
The coaching change was only the first jolt for Lachowecki. The second came a few games into her freshman season when Monroe decided to move her from forward to defense.
“We needed a defender,” Monroe said. “She was one of our fastest and fittest players. We figured that even if she made a mistake, she had the speed to recover.”
Fortunately for the Canes (5-8, 2-4 ACC), Lachowecki recovered in time to score three goals in Sunday’s 3-2 win over Wake Forest. The Canes trailed 2-0 at halftime before Lachowecki and her teammates came alive.
The game-winning goal — just like against Notre Dame — came in double overtime. This time, it was the 109th minute.
“It was the ugliest three goals I’ve ever scored,” Lachowecki said of her performance, including one goal that bounced off her stomach, another off a mad scramble and the third that barely trickled past the goalie.