Alumna Diane Kelly was a sensation on the women’s soccer team in 1987, guiding the Colonials to its second-most winning season of all time with 15 victories and lifting the program out of a six-year slump marked by consecutive losing records.
Kelly, GW’s star forward at the time, led the Colonials with 15 goals and five assists to propel the team to a 15-6-1 record, ranking No. 2 all time in GW women’s soccer history for points and goals with 44 and 96, respectively. She was inducted into the GW Athletics Hall of Fame Friday, joining the all-time GW greats as one of the most prolific attackers in Colonials history.
“It’s all about mindset,” Kelly said at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. “So I did a lot of practicing at Mercer County. I had a really great team and a really great coach who believed in me, and belief gives you wings. And that really helped facilitate my drive as a goal scorer and lots of practice by myself and lots of support from teammates and lots of prayers.”
Kelly arrived at GW in 1986 after transferring from Mercer County College as a sophomore, where she scored a nation-leading 29 goals during her first season with the Colonials. GW rebounded from a 3-11-1 season in 1985 to rack up 12 wins under then-Head Coach Adrian Glover while led by Kelly during the following season.
Kelly’s single-season record of 61 points in 1986 crushes the 1997 runner-up by 21 points.
“It kind of came out of left field, and I never really expected the call,” Kelly said. “I never even thought about it and so many years later, right over 30 years later, so very honored and grateful, have a lot of pride in my GW experiences, both in the classroom and on the soccer field.”
Kelly said coming to GW on a soccer scholarship marked the first time she left home in New Jersey to be on her own in a big city. She said the adjustment from junior college to the Division I program was a struggle at first, but her busy schedule and the close-knit bonds on the soccer team helped her adapt to the District and grow up fast in the city environment.
“I think I was prepared because of all this success,” Kelly said of her first season at GW. “Praise God that I had and my coaches that I had at Mercer County College. I just had that mindset, and I didn’t allow outside influences to taint my mindset, which was I was a goal scorer, and my teammates and I gelled really well that first year.”
Kelly said one of her most cherished memories was an assist to Rachel Raver, a women’s soccer alumna who was tragically murdered in the winter of 1988 after graduating from GW, recalling her smile after Raver scored the goal.
Among her other favorite memories, Kelly recalled traveling to England with the program, where they saw women’s club teams like Chelsea and Arsenal compete – a time to bond with her teammates.
“We were all learning, growing as women and also student-athletes,” Kelly said. “And just the overall experience and of those bonding moments, team togetherness, just trying to think of some other things that I wrote down, we had girls from all over the world, we had girls from all over the country, and GW is kind of an international school.”
After graduating from GW in 1989, Kelly took some time off from soccer and school to join a band from New Jersey, but in 1992 she started to pursue a master’s degree in health education, nutrition and fitness at the University of West Florida, where she coached its Division II women’s soccer team for three years.
In 1996, the New Jersey Wildcats – a team formerly in the United Soccer League W-League – invited her to play during the team’s first-ever season in the sports organization, which was founded a year earlier. She said she was motivated to play the first season but no longer felt like she was in shape to compete, a progression away from what she called her “soccer body” to her “rock star body.” She said she had less muscle and got knocked off the ball a lot, but she still had a great experience before hanging up her cleats at the end of the season to pursue her music career.
Kelly said she’s excited about the future of GW women’s soccer under head coaches Michelle Demko and Shannon Higgins-Cirovski, who turned the program into a completive force in the last decade with a pair of appearances in the A-10 Championship finals. The 2015 women’s soccer program went on a historic 13-game winning streak to clinch the top seed in the Atlantic 10 for the first time since 1995 and claim their first undefeated season in conference play.
She said she hopes to see GW take the national Division I title one day.
“Success on the field really comes from success within team cohesion character,” Kelly said. “When you have that cohesion as people on the field, that creates greatness. I’m a fan of greatness, so I wish them greatness and a team that lays down their personal best efforts every game without hesitation.”
As a former professional soccer player, Kelly tells young student-athletes to not make themselves victims of inequality but to stand their ground by showing their skill and making an impact with their talent and voice. She said even though inequality in women’s sports has existed since women’s sports started, she encourages female athletes to focus on their personal best and where they can leave the greatest impact, not only on the field but with their character.
“Remind them that character is everything, that they want to align themselves with products and images that are of the highest integrity to represent George Washington University and themselves and their family and whatever else,” Kelly said. “So that’s a big deal, and then also to always being grateful, one of my mottos is ‘Faithful, ever grateful.’”
This article appeared in the February 6, 2023 issue of the Hatchet.