Soccer is what led Colin Petersen ’01 on the 8,000-mile journey from his native South Africa home to Erie, Pa. He arrived in the summer of 1993 to begin his collegiate playing career at Gannon.
The sport also brought Lia Petersen ’97 to the university when she joined the Gannon team after a standout high school career at Erie Central High School.
Nearly three decades later, Gannon is still home for the family.
“We started dating sometime while we were sophomores, got married in 1999, and now we have four beautiful kids,” Colin said. “This is my home now, so it’s pretty cool.”
Both Colin and Lia were successful on the field. Colin, a Gannon Athletics Hall of Famer, is 11th in program history in both goals and points and was a two-time all-region performer. He helped the Golden Knights to the NCAA Division II national semifinals in 1993.
Lia played just one season for the Lady Knights before focusing full-time on her academics, but turned in 119 saves as the starting goalkeeper in 1994. The mark still ranks third in the team record book.
Neither strayed far from the game after graduation.
Colin worked on and off with both the men’s and women’s programs at Gannon under coaches Rob van Rheenan and Jim Nestor while also working in the corporate world and later in Gannon’s Office of Admissions.
Prior to the 2002 season, the opportunity arose for Colin to take over the helm of the women’s program. After some initial hesitation, he’s jumped fully on-board as head women’s soccer coach.
Lia took a similar path to a full-time position at Gannon, but already had both feet in the coaching world.
In 1997 she was named the head girls’ soccer coach at nearby Fairview High School. In 11 seasons, the Tigers won 10 region titles, nine District 10 championships, and reached the PIAA state semifinals three times.
The couples’ opposing schedules of practice, travel and games started eating into time with the family. So beginning with the 2009 season, Lia joined the staff at Gannon as assistant women’s soccer coach, and the success followed.
“A lot of people, when they see too much of each other, it’s an issue,” Colin said. “But for us it’s the other way. It’s not much of a difference whether we’re in the office or at home, we’re talking about the game, throwing ideas out at each other. Lia is a terrific coach, and she’s a big part of our success.”
The Gannon family and Petersen family overlap doesn’t end with the couple. Their oldest, Maddie, is a first-year education major and a student-athlete on the cross-country team.
The Petersen's oldest daughter, Maddie, is a first-year education major and a student-athlete on the cross-country team.
Her younger brothers, Charlie, 17; Owen, 15; and Lincoln, 3, have also been around the school and soccer team their entire lives.
“For me, even when I was a student here, it’s just not something that you can put your finger on (about Gannon) and say, ‘This is what it is,’ but there’s something, and I’ve just always been very comfortable here,” Colin said.
“When I came over here, I didn’t know too many people, and now this is my home. I’ll be forever thankful to Gannon, because they afforded me a great life. I love what I do, and all I want to do is have the kids — our own children and our players — have the same experience that I did.”