GAITHERSBURG, Md. (DC News Now) — In 24 years as the head coach of the Quince Orchard high school girls soccer team, Peg Keiller has never missed a game.
“I think to this whole community she means a lot,” Quince Orchard junior midfielder Annie Faraone said. “If you hear Peg Keiller. You’re like – that woman is special.”
Keiller led Quince Orchard to two state championships in 2002 and 2007 and seven regional titles between 2002 and 2021.
“Soccer at QO has always been her baby,” Keiller’s husband Sean Keiller said. “It’s her third child basically.”
In the mid 2000s when Keiler had two pregnancies, leading to the birth of her two now teenage sons that attend Quince Orchard, Sean, who is now the QO boys junior varsity soccer head coach, helped her coaching as an assistant. Peg was still the head coach during the pregnancies.
“She scheduled her c-section around the playoffs,” Sean said. “So she could have a first round bye so she could coach still.”
Peg told DC News Now that she never told her doctor why she had to schedule the c-section, as she was itching to get back to the sidelines.
In 2021, Peg faced a medical situation that was out of her control. Just two days before the start of her team’s season, she was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer.
“It had metastasized to the liver,” Peg said.
Keiller, along with Quince Orchard athletic director Jeff Rabberman, held a meeting to notify the team, just before their September 23, 2021 game against eventual state champion Whitman.
“At first I was like, I just didn’t understand, I was like no. I didn’t believe it,” Faraone said. “And then when I liked look around and I saw everybody. I was like wow, like we all were so sad. It was like really sad and hard thing to hear.”
Peg found the cancerous mass was a significant size, but it could be removed. She remained resilient through her battle.
“I knew that as long as I was able to, that I would be coaching,” Peg said.
While battling the cancer, Keiller coached her team all the way to the state semifinals, where they lost in penalty kicks to Broadneck.
“She kept everything pretty hidden,” Sean said. “I mean just the tiredness, the pain, doctor’s appointments, juggling two kids who both play soccer at the school, watching them play and trying to get to practice. It was difficult but she always finds a way for things to work out.”
Last season, the team got wrist bands that said “#PegStrong” and “MCFF – Make Cancer Flinch First.” “Make them flinch first” is a team mantra that Keiller’s team has said for years.
“What Peg was going through, coming to soccer was her joy,” Faraone said. “It was her escape from it, so if we could bring her any kind of pride and happiness, we had to do it.”
Peg’s post surgery pathology report indicated clear margins, a CT scan in May and another in August backed that up. Via text, Keiller described her recovery as “anticlimactic,” but found out she was cancer free in the Spring of this year.
“I hope it let [my team] know that they can fight through anything and we talk about that all the time,” Keiller said. “We’re always going to have obstacles in soccer and in life and we’re just going to work hard and get through them and I was able to not just talk about it last year but actually demonstrate it.”
While Keiller still heads to the doctor for checkups, now that she’s defeated cancer, she can focus even more on taking down opponents and trying to lead her program to a third state title.
“You know last year or even at the end of the season, I wasn’t sure how things were gonna go cause I still had radiation to do and surgery and more chemo, through the winter and spring,” Keiller said. “Just being able to come back with no evidence of cancer left and to be able to be on my feet, it’s a great feeling.”
Keiller said that during the 2021 season, she had to spent much of her time on the sideline sitting. In 2022, she’s proudly back on her feet, not missing a beat as she leads her Cougars.
“Not only has she been a tremendous coach for 24 years. She has done so much for this program and has really built it up to be an amazing program,” Faraone said. “And she was able to beat cancer while doing it.”