Keisha Caine was trudging through a rough week when she got a phone call, from an extension she recognized. When the former track and field standout at Seton Hall, from 1991-95, realized the number was that of her alma mater, she anticipated a request for a donation, and quickly prepared herself for what she thought was an opportunity to give back.
In a matter of moments, however, Caine was awestruck, as the nine-time All-American and nine-time Big East champion realized the university was re-paying her, with one of five spots in the Seton Hall Athletics 2018 Hall of Fame class.
“I was so excited to be able to give back…and then he tells me that – (Assistant Athletic Director) Jay [Judge] – tells me he wanted to induct me into the Hall of Fame. I, like, screamed so loud, his poor ears.”
Caine’s story is akin to that of Tommy Houston, Kyle Morris, Stacey Nagle and Phyllis Sheppard, with all five inducted on Wednesday evening, at the lavish Maplewood Country Club.
A mother to United States sprinters Noah Lyles and Josephus Lyles, 20 and 19-years-old, Caine can take some credit for their passion in running, even if her two sons do not quite understand the level of success she enjoyed while in college.
“When they started growing up they were like, ‘Mom, you used to be fast when you were a little girl, right?’, and I said, ‘Yeah, yeah,” Caine said through laughter. “Then, when they started actually competing – they’re so funny – they would say, ‘Oh Mom, you weren’t that fast when you were running’.”
“And so, I never really talked to them about my accolades in track and field,” Caine said. “They know I ran, they know about my All-America status, they see the awards, but to them, they think I’m just kind of like mom,” Caine said.
Sheppard, likewise, has been the matriarch of the Seton Hall baseball program for over four decades, dating back to when her husband, Mike Sheppard Sr., began coaching the Pirates in 1973. Sheppard Sr. won 998 wins, before handing the coaching reigns to his son in 2003, setting the stage for over 400 more wins to the Sheppard name.
Through it all has been Mrs. Sheppard, lifting up the program with philanthropic efforts, all the while avoiding any of the spotlight. However, on this one night, the attention was unavoidable.
“First of all, this is a…I don’t do this, I’m the behind the scenes, this is really out of my character to get up in front of people to speak,” Sheppard said, while being reminded of her impending speech.
“I didn’t know [why I was being inducted], I said, ‘For what?’. You know, I’m not an athlete or anything like that, but I’ve been around…I guess I’ve been at Seton Hall since the 50’s,” Sheppard said. “You know, my husband went to the prep and the university, and all my boys, my whole family. So, we’ve been here a long time.”
Tommy Houston has not been tied to Seton Hall quite as long, but the midfielder arrived at Seton Hall in the fall of 1993, a time in which the men’s soccer program was experiencing a golden era. Leading the team was Manfred Schellscheidt, a former head coach who is not only a member of the Hall of Fame at Seton Hall, but a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame as well.
“There was a bit of pressure because of the success,” Houston said, with his young son looking on. “Obviously, I knew the names of the players, Coach Manny, Gerson Echeverry, all these superstars that I was just hoping to be able to fill their shoes, somewhat. So, I was honored, and I did feel a little bit of pressure.”
Houston, modest but also driven and composed, broke out in a magical sophomore season, scoring 12 goals and assisting on nine more. His stellar campaign earned him a spot on the All-American Second Team, a level of national recognition that has only been equaled 10 times in program history, most recently by current Orlando City SC midfielder Sacha Kljestan, in 2004 and 2005.
On the same field, but with a much different task, Stacey Nagle served as the net-minder for the women’s soccer team from 1995 to 1998, providing defensive stability for the program in its infancy. Nagle played alongside the only other Hall of Fame inductee in women’s soccer history, forward Kelly Smith. The core of their late 90’s teams defied expectations, winning 14 games in 1997, amidst what was a much different conference landscape.
“We were in the Big East before with, more of the football powerhouses, and now it’s more like a Catholic league,” Nagle said. So, it’s a different type of school that you’re playing, and I kind of like it now, because, you’re not competing against the schools with, 50,000 people,”
“Anytime we played Boston College was exciting for me, and I don’t know why, I just seemed to play better against them. Of course, everyone is going to remember the Notre Dame game, when we beat the No. 2 in the nation. It was an amazing day, and, I will never forget that.” Nagle went on to say, while managing to hold onto one of her children.
“She’s good with her hands,” a friend jokingly chimed in.
Morris, with three children of his own, found out about his induction while at home, with his kids reacting to the news in unrivaled delirium. The news should have been little surprise to the former men’s golf captain, though, as Morris holds the program record for the most tournament victories, sub-par tournaments, top five and top ten finishes. In addition, his par-71 score of 63, from March 9, 2007, stands as the lowest single-round total in Pirate history.
A native of Powell, Ohio, Morris came to South Orange in the fall of 2004, coinciding with the arrival of current men’s golf head coach Clay White, who recently concluded a 14th season at the head of the program.
“Him [White] and I were kind of able to grow together, as kind of, say, captain and coach, and really kind of build the program to where it’s starting to trend to now, with some really good young talent, and kind of lay that foundation,” Morris said.
The five inductees join a group of 232, making for a total of 237 that have earned enshrinement. From a track and field star, to an ace on the green, a goal-creator to a shot-stopper, and of course, the woman at the center of the most important family in Seton Hall baseball, the 2018 class is tremendously diverse. But whatever the time period and no matter the field of play, all five have given back to Seton Hall. And, as a result, all five have gotten something back in return, beyond even what they earned on Wednesday night.
“It’s just, every year we went to the beach for our training, prior to the season,” Nagle said. “And, just to be with the team, and to, you know, experience the camaraderie and grow together before the season, was such a fantastic experience.”
“[Seton Hall] gave me structure…it also gave me a family,” Houston said. “It gave me instant friends, as soon as I showed up I felt comfortable. It was a lot of work, but it was an instant camaraderie with these guys; these guys are unbelievable, I can’t say enough about that. And it was instant friends, and it was, it was a connection that happened from day one.”
James Justice can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII.