You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has made more of an impact on Marist athletics than Keith Detelj.
Detelj’s run with Marist men’s soccer is impressive enough on its own. The former striker won back-to-back MAAC Tournament Most Valuable Player awards in 2004-2005, leading the program to their first two NCAA Tournament appearances ever.
But Detelj’s athletic excellence did not stop there, as he also starred for men’s lacrosse each spring despite having little time to recover in between seasons. Incredibly, he was also awarded MAAC Tournament MVP in 2005 after guiding men’s lacrosse to their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
Somehow, some way, Detelj managed to be a focal point on two Division I teams at the same time.
Spanning from 2003 to 2007, Detelj’s athletic career as a Red Fox was nothing short of legendary. Now, his focus is excellence for a third Marist team, as women’s lacrosse announced over the summer that Detelj agreed to become their next head coach. His unique journey has given him the opportunity to influence three separate Marist teams, a rare distinction that sets him apart in the Marist athletics community.
Long before the success and accolades, Detelj was just a kid with a soccer ball.
“I had a ball at my feet when I was two or three years old,” said Detelj. “It was just something where a soccer ball came my way and it was there early at my age, and then by five, I was playing some organized sports.”
As Detelj began to play soccer, he also started to absorb its culture. He fell in love with Pelé, the renowned Brazilian forward who won three World Cups. Also adding to his love of the game was his travel soccer coach of 10 years, who Detelj credits with helping him discover the game’s passion.
The number 18, which Detelj wore from the time he was five years old through his playing days at Marist, reminds him of his roots as a soccer player.
“It was just a number that was given to me at a time where I just started to love the game,” said Detelj. “I’m not really a big superstitious type of person, so it just became a part of me as the game became a part of me.”
When it came to lacrosse, Detelj discovered the sport later on, yet his youth and passion for athletics allowed him to add the sport to his repertoire.
“It was a new experience with lacrosse because I started it in eighth grade,” said Detelj. “Figuring out the game was just new and exciting for me.”
As he integrated the game of lacrosse into his life, Detelj faced the reality of juggling two sports at once throughout high school, and eventually in college. When asked to pick a favorite sport out of the two, he simply couldn’t. Instead, he pointed out how he finds the distinct nature of each sport to be full of intrigue.
Unable to imagine his life without either sport, he ultimately decided to pursue both lacrosse and soccer at the collegiate level. Despite the logistical obstacles and lifestyle inconveniences that juggling two athletic seasons per year presented, Detelj expressed no regrets about his decision because of the experiences each sport brought him.
“It was testing, but I think that it was something that kept me in a competitive nature for the full year, which I thought was beneficial for both sports,” said Detelj. “I didn’t really have that offseason that most players had, I really had to do things on my own for a lot of things.”
It’s hard to argue with the results. Detelj’s impact on the Marist men’s soccer program is second to none, as he holds the program record for goals (36) and points (89) dating back to when they first began Division I play in 1981. He is a trailblazer in the Marist athletics community, serving as the beating heart of the first two men’s soccer teams to qualify for the NCAA Tournament and the first men’s lacrosse team to do the same.
Sticking out to Detelj even more than the successes of that era were the memories he made playing in pressure-cooker situations. The do-or-die moments he faced in elimination games fueled him and captured the essence of his fondest memories; he gained the ultimate satisfaction when his preparation culminated in a chance to prevail in a win-or-go-home scenario.
“Those are the experiences I loved to be in, and I think my teammates loved to be in them too, and that’s why we were successful in those spots.”
Bonded through success, Detelj still keeps in touch with his soccer teammates over 15 years later. In fact, the group bonded so strongly, they get together once or twice a year since departing Marist. He noted that the team was a “very close-knit group” from day one and attributed heaps of praise upon former Marist men’s soccer coach Bobby Herodes for his role in galvanizing everybody.
“Coach Herodes, who was here at Marist, was a person that I deeply respected in the way that he always had our back,” said Detelj. “He was somebody that protected what he felt the standard was for our game of play, and he really pushed us. I think that’s something I’m glad he did as I stepped into a coaching role later on, of understanding the whys and the ins and outs of how you push players in the right ways.”
When his playing days at Marist came to an end, Detelj moved on to new opportunities on and off the field. He played in the United Soccer League’s Premier Development League (USL PDL) from 2009 to 2014; he also coached youth and individual players on the side and even helped with his dad’s family business.
With opportunities also comes adversity. Detelj received a chance to try out for the New York Cosmos at age 28, yet he tore his ACL just beforehand, ending his opportunity and forcing him into a seven-month rehab.
He wasn’t deterred, coming back from injury and winning a national amateur title with his club team. He fulfilled his overarching goal of going pro when he signed on with the Dayton Dutch Lions, a USL pro club team, for the 2014 season.
Still, he knew that his playing days were likely drawing to a close one way or another, causing him to fully commit to his second act: a career in coaching.
In 2012, Detelj’s first collegiate coaching job came about in the most fitting way possible, as his soccer and lacrosse backgrounds merged to land him the gig. While training for club soccer teams on Long Island, he formed relationships with the Nassau Community College soccer coaches. When the Nassau women’s lacrosse coach needed an assistant, Detelj’s name was tossed into the ring based on his background in lacrosse and experience coaching youth soccer.
“She was like, ‘You played lacrosse, why don’t you come on?’” said Detelji. “And then I wound up doing both [sports] at that time. That’s how I snuck into the lacrosse side after having affiliations with the soccer side.”
Once his playing career commenced in 2014, Nassau made Detelj their head coach, and he rewarded them by leading their women’s lacrosse team to a regional championship and an appearance in the NJCAA Division III Final Four. Still, his soccer days weren’t over just yet, and a visit back to Marist reignited his interest in Division I sports.
Sure enough, he joined the Marist men’s soccer program as head coach Matt Viggiano’s assistant in 2016. Viggiano was an assistant with the program during Detelj’s playing days, forming the basis for a connection.
Now based in the Hudson Valley, Detelj continued his advancement by switching back to women’s lacrosse, this time taking the reins at SUNY New Paltz as the head coach of their Division III program from 2017 to 2021. The program experienced a steady upward trajectory, evolving from an unknown in the sport to posting their first-ever winning conference record in his final season on the job.
“I think it was a great experience building something that’s never been there before,” said Detelj. “For New Paltz, I think they were at a spot where we were struggling to compete a little bit, and I think that we did a really good job, the staffs that we’ve had there… to turn the program around and be a little more competitive.”
Detelj expressed immense pride at how each of his New Paltz recruiting classes worked toward setting a new precedent of winning and mentioned that he still connects with many of his former players as they go through life. Despite his success and the relationships he formed at that stop, Detelj felt the itch to jump back into the world of Division I athletics.
“I was at a point in my coaching career where I wanted to expand my development of the player a little bit more, and the Division III world limits that a little bit.”
After spending the past two years as a women’s lacrosse assistant coach at Kennesaw State, Detelj possessed the Division I experience needed to land a head coaching job at the highest collegiate level. As he searched for an opening in the Northeast, an opportunity presented itself to lead the women’s lacrosse program at the place where it all started.
“This opportunity came up, and I have my ties here to great memories that I wish everybody could share, and hopefully over time here, we can reproduce some of those memories in their own way,” said Detelj. “This place has a special place in my heart, and it always will be with the experiences that I had and the connections that I’ve made.”
As he goes about familiarizing himself with his new players, assembling his coaching staff and shaping the program to fit his vision, Detelj will do so knowing what it takes to achieve greatness at Marist. Time will only tell if his second Marist act will live up to the first.
Edited by Dan Aulbach
Graphic by Cara Lacey
Photo Credits: Marist Athletics