Beginning her junior year at Long Island University, Rachel Vellis couldn’t be happier with the direction of her life as a student-athlete.

Vellis, 20, is a 2017 graduate of Wayne Hills High, where she excelled in three sports, field hockey, basketball and softball. She’s the youngest of three born to Maria and Charley Vellis. The family originally resided in Wallington, NJ before moving to Wayne before Rachel’s freshman year of high school.

When Rachel made her college decision, there wasn’t a doubt as to what sport she’d pursue.

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“I enjoyed playing all three sports in high school, but I knew that field hockey would be the sport I’d pursue in college,” said Vellis, the starting goalie at LIU. “It’s the most natural sport for me. I started playing in high school and I gained a confidence that if I worked hard at it, I’d excel.”

She sure has.

Earning a starting berth as a freshman, Vellis, who is majoring in Criminal Justice, had the opportunity to play in the NCAA Division II championship game, for LIU-Post, against Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, in Louisville, Ky., after the Pioneers captured an East Coast Conference championship.

“It was an incredible experience,” said Vellis of playing in the championship game, which LIU-Post dropped, 4-1. “It was almost surreal, one of the most amazing times of my life and being a part of that team was something I’ll never forget.”

The athletic departments of LIU-Post and LIU-Brooklyn officially consolidated into one NCAA Division 1 program for the 2019-2020 season. The program is now a part of the Northeast Conference and field hockey will play its first league game on Oct. 11, against Wagner College. The team plays regular season games through Nov. 3. The conference semifinals are on Nov. 8, with the championship game two days later.

Through games of Oct. 8, the Sharks had a record of 3-5, including a 2-game winning streak, with wins over Lock Haven University, 1-0, and Lehigh University, 2-1.

“We started off slow, but we’re playing pretty well now,” said Vellis, who was named the Northeast Conference’s Defensive Player of the Week for Oct. 1.

According to the LIU press release, Vellis made a season-high sixteen saves in a Sept. 27 matchup at Saint Francis University, which was the second most by a NEC goalkeeper this season, at the time.

She had seven saves in a scoreless fourth quarter, forcing overtime against the Red Flash. Versus Lock Haven, Vellis registered six saves, including a clutch save off a penalty corner with seven seconds remaining to earn her first shut out of the season.

Vellis earned All-Conference accolades in 2018 and was named to the conference’s All-Rookie team a year earlier. She was also a two-time conference goalkeeper of the week in 2018 and her .784 save percentage ranked fourth in the conference and ninth, nationally, last season.

Rachel has enjoyed the opportunity to travel to Europe, where she visited Scotland and Italy on two different trips abroad during the summer, along with some of her teammates.

“I’ve seen a lot of the United States over the years, so to get the chance to visit Europe has been so exciting,” she said.

Field hockey on the collegiate level is certainly different than what Vellis experienced in high school.

“It’s a faster game and more physical,” said Vellis. “The conditioning is intense. I’ll put 6 days a week into training for a season. Working on speed and agility is part of what I do to get ready for a season and we weight lift during the season, as well. I always say if you weren’t in shape coming into a season, you will be soon.”

Vellis had a tremendous senior year in the cage for Wayne Hills. The team finished 13-6 overall, but it was a stretch of games from Oct 6-29, where she was truly outstanding. Vellis led the Patriots to eight straight wins, seven by shutout, and recorded 60 saves, before the magical run ended in the state sectional quarterfinals, against powerful Northern Highlands. Rachel had 10 saves in that game, but the Patriots lost, 2-1, in overtime.

For the 2016 season, Vellis had nine shutouts. She was also the starting goalie when Wayne Hills won back-to-back Passaic County championships in 2014 and 2015, to secure a three-peat, which began in Rachel’s freshman season.

Rachel aspires to be a police officer, or FBI agent after graduating college in 2021. She has excelled in the classroom, with a GPA over 3.5.

“I just love it here,” said LIU. “I’m so happy with where I’m at. It’s a great environment here.”

Rachel expressed her gratitude to her parents: “Since I was a kid, they’ve been to just about every game I’ve ever played,” she said. “That makes a difference and I’ll always be grateful.”

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Mike Lamberti is a freelance reporter and blogger who covers multiple sports in multiple towns. Visit his blog when you can: https://mikelamberti.wordpress.com/ 

You can also find him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/mike.lamberti.9 

Twitter @Cagey86