Area Girls Soccer Player of the Year | Currituck's Kelleher's love for the game pays off
By David Gough
Thursday, July 5, 2018
Kenzie Kelleher can’t get away from soccer.
She took an extended break from the sport in June and she still felt the urge to want to get on the field.
“I can’t help but play,” Kelleher said. “Like I feel like I need to go to practice because I’m so used to it. I miss it when I’m not playing.”
The recent Currituck graduate played for Sol Futbol, a Virginia travel soccer program, since she was in seventh grade. It’s what she did year-round before high school where she dedicated each spring to the Lady Knights program.
That’s where she shined as a defensive midfielder for four years for a team that reached the state playoffs each season she was there. As a senior captain in 2018, she helped Currituck reach the round of 16 with 11 goals, 16 assists and stellar defensive play throughout the season.
Kelleher earned the title of The Daily Advance’s Area Player of the Year for girls’ soccer after being named to the All-Area team last season and honorable mention in her first two years. She was an all-conference member each of her four Currituck seasons as well.
“It feels really good,” Kelleher said. “I honestly didn’t expect it, but I’m very honored because I worked really hard for soccer and it was my favorite thing every single year. I definitely put my all into it.”
No one knows the impact Kelleher made on the team more than Madison Phillips. Not only was Kelleher there for four of the six years Phillips has been the Lady Knights’ coach, but Phillips even instructed her when she was six years old and playing recreational soccer for the first time.
“She’s always been a tenacious player,” he said. “When she’s on the field whether it’s practice, a scrimmage, no matter what, she gives a 110 percent. We could be leading five or six to nothing and she’s still playing just as hard as if we were down and trying to win a championship game.
“You pull her off the field because you want to give her rest and we have a good lead. Yet, she’s mad at you for pulling her because she’s that intense and that driven to play the game well.”
Most who play Kelleher’s position are recognized as much as strikers or forwards when it comes to key moments in any given game. It’s not often that a defensive position earns too many goals or assists; it’s not often they can stun a crowd like a goaltender can making a diving save.
But Kelleher was statistically responsible for 27 goals this past season and, like a goalie, she even managed to make two saves on separate occasions from shots that had already surpassed the goaltender.
“What gets overlooked quite often is that central-mid player,” Phillips said. “Those who are in there getting physical, winning the ball, and making smart passes to start an attack. Kenzie exemplified that position. Nobody who I’ve seen or coached has done it better than her.”
Kelleher, Phillip says, could easily have been playing for an NCAA soccer program next spring, but that’s not the route she wanted to take.
Instead, she’s headed to East Carolina where she’ll be majoring in health fitness, minoring in sports studies and playing club soccer on the side. There, she’ll be playing other club soccer teams from schools like Duke, Clemson and Liberty.
The sport has only ever been about having fun for Kelleher and that’s why she says she was able to succeed at the level she did as a Lady Knight.
“There was positivity everywhere,” Kelleher said. “There’s no negativity ever. That’s really good for a coach like (Phillips). Just being positive with your players. I definitely got a lot of confidence boost from him and that was very important.”