Throughout the 2018 season, GoDuke.com will be profiling each member of the Duke women’s soccer coaching staff. First up is assistant coach and overseer of the DWS goalkeeper staff, Lane Davis.
It’s a hot, late afternoon with the sun scorching down as it works its way back behind a line of trees. You’ll hear the sound of a ball as its rocketed off of the ground and into the diving hands of a goalkeeper.
“Up, up, up!”
Another ball fired away, another save made.
“That’s good! Alright, grab a drink and let’s reload.”
Tucked away on the backend of Duke’s 751 Fields is Duke assistant coach Lane Davis and his three keepers. The third-year goalkeeper coach for the Duke women’s soccer program can be found here during the opening moments of every practice, running his trio of goalies through drills, offering critiques with each move made and each one that isn’t.
Davis came to Durham in 2016 after spending the prior seven years scattered about the Northeast, helping guide some of the nation’s top young goalkeepers at George Washington (2009-11), UMBC (2012) and St. Joseph’s (2013-16). However, his journey extends beyond just the East Coast, having also held coaching roles in California at U.C. Riverside and in his home area of the Midwest at Missouri State and Kansas.
No matter where it’s taken him, it’s always been about the kids he’s taught and his love for the game.
“You have to have a passion for this every single day you wake up,” Davis said. “There are going to be days that are hard, but you have to have that passion. We don’t have bad days, just hard days. So when it gets rough, you still have to bring it regardless because these players feed off of this staff.”
And that energy from the reigning United Soccer Coaches National Staff of the Year is a big reason why the Blue Devils have become one of the nation's premier programs over the last several years. However, for Davis it’s not just the competitive fire of the staff that makes them successful, but also the different strengths that each coach brings to the table.
“You do have to be ultra-competitive,” Davis said. “I also think one of the other things you see with our staff is that each coach is a little bit different than the other. I think if we were all the same person, it wouldn’t make our team better. We all have different strengths and that’s important. I think one of the reasons we had such a successful season as a staff is because we do have different types of people and not the same coach at every position. The players are able to feed off certain things and have training and matches organized with different personalities, which is important.”
One player that helped drive Davis’ competitive spirit was former Blue Devil All-ACC goalkeeper EJ Proctor, who wrapped up one of the most impressive careers in DWS history during the historic 2017 season. For Davis, Proctor is a shining example of how a love and passion for the game can trump flash.
“The great thing about having someone like EJ is that it shows that hard work and determination will make you a better goalkeeper than maybe athleticism, size and accolades will,” Davis said. “She was definitely dedicated to the position and helped me get better professionally, too, because you’re working with someone highly motivated and you have to keep them highly motivated. That’s not as easy as it sounds.”
Proctor finished her career at Duke owning nearly every goalkeeping record there was while also dominating in the classroom, earning numerous academic honors from CoSIDA Academic All-District to United Soccer Coaches Scholar All-America. The Wilson, N.C., native was also known her impressive showings in postseason play, leading Duke to NCAA College Cup appearances in 2015 and 2017. The Blue Devil netminder earned NCAA College Cup Most Outstanding Player on Defense honors in 2015 before not allowing a single goal in last year’s run to the national semifinals.
Her run of success, which included her final two seasons under the leadership of Davis, was more than just the honors and records she racked up. As Davis repeatedly states, her career is more defined by the attitude she brought every time she stepped onto the pitch.
“She was definitely someone who brought it every single day and forced you to do it, too, because she wanted to be challenged,” Davis said. “And if she wasn’t being challenged then she felt like she had a bad day. You didn’t want to disappoint her so you elevated your game.”
With ACC play in year three on the horizon, the scene is much different for Davis. In goal is Brooke Heinsohn, a 6-1 star keeper that has been a standout in the U.S. Women’s National Team system since she was in the U-14 and U-15 Girls National Team pools and spent the last year learning the collegiate ropes from Proctor.
“What’s different about this year is we have a lot of fresh faces and inexperience on the field. In the years past we could develop our team a certain way, but this year we’ve had to make sure we’re organized, simplify some things and do a lot more teaching,” Davis said. “There’s been a lot of things we’ve had to reteach or introduce for the first time and we’re really working a bit harder where with an experienced team you just manage them.”
Despite this being her first full season as a starter, Heinsohn has shown very little inexperience and has been in strong form between the posts. The redshirt sophomore has posted five shutouts, including two against top 25 foes. Those five clean sheets are second in the ACC and seventh in the country, while her standing top five in the ACC in save percentage (.867, 4th) and goals against average (0.49, 5th).
Next up for Davis and his young goalkeeper? A rigorous ACC schedule that features a slew of nationally ranked squads. Will the challenge be easy? Of course not. But at the end of the day, it all comes back to two things for the Blue Devil assistant: passion and hard work.
“Every day I come here ready to play and work and have something better and see what we can do to make the goalkeepers better,” Davis said. “Because this conference, school and position demands it. If you want to be the best in this league, you have to put your all into it every day and that’s what we do here.”
However, even more important than the game of soccer is another six-letter word: family.
"My kids are growing up with these players," Davis said. "What I really like about the fact that my family can always be around is that my daughter gets a chance to see these women and she talks about them all the time about how she looks forward to being like them. That’s extremely important, too, because I want her to know that there’s a lot out there that she can do when she gets older."
And it's that which drives him the most, more than his love for the game or the competitiveness of his players. It's helping develop the players that his children look up to as role models.
"The fact that Robbie allows that work-life balance and the opportunity for my family, especially my daughter, to see and be next to these women is a major piece to me," Davis said. "It makes me happier to see my daughter look up to them and that also makes me more competitive. The better I make them, the better they make me and the better example I can present for my kids. It’s extremely important."