Soccer star Isleib ready to become a Ute
With graduation just days away, Park City’s star soccer player, Kelly Isleib, has a lot to think about. She’s been reflecting on a memorable high school career and is looking forward to making even more memories as she prepares to suit up for the University of Utah next fall.
After leading the Miners to their second consecutive state title as a senior and winning every MVP award in existence, the young phenom was ready to help her club soccer team, the Utah Avalanche to the State Cup. Then, in February, the unthinkable happened. While trying to cut on the field during the President’s Cup tournament in Arizona, her foot got stuck and she tore her anterior cruciate ligament.
"I was pretty devastated," Isleib said.
Doctors projected a six-month recovery right around the time University of Utah head soccer coach Rich Manning will open his preseason training camp.
So far, Isleib has been given the green light to begin running, and just started kicking last week. But surgery and rehab has not dampened Isleib’s spirits. She can’t wait to play collegiate soccer.
"I was already way excited and now I’m even more driven, because I got hurt," Isleib said.
In the meantime, Isleib is doing her best to be supportive of her club team that will play in the State Cup finals on Monday.
"It’s been hard to just watch," Isleib admits.
She has also received support from her family and friends as well as numerous letters from many of the coaches that recruited her during her high school years.
Of course, on outpouring of love from college coaches has become pretty normal for Isleib, perhaps the most highly recruited player to ever come out of the area. As early as sophomore year, Isleib began receiving countless phone calls and letters from soccer programs all-over the country.
"Things were stressful last year," Isleib said. "I’m not a big fan of phone calls."
During her junior year, top programs in the country, like Notre Dame, Santa Clara and UCLA among others began visiting her at the high school all offering full-ride, four-year athletic scholarships. her senior year, she was taking campus visits to the top programs.
For Manning, the love affair began in her sophomore year when she moved from the Orem-based Celtic Storm club to the Avalanche and became one of the star players.
"I always wanted to see her play for me from the time I saw her," Manning said.
Luckily for Manning, Isleib picked Utah early in her senior year.
"Kelly is the biggest recruit I’ve got since I’ve been here," Manning added. "We have a good talent base, good results. I think that helps. We’ve beat UCLA and Florida. This made her feel more secure."
Isleib admits that the injury makes her a little nervous heading into her first year of college ball, but she is still eager to get started.
"The pace is a lot faster," Isleib said. "I think most freshmen struggle, but when you play with better players, you play better."
Isleib has already begun to develop a respect for many of the Ute players, such as Katy Reineke, Michelle Wayman and Adele Letro, as well as many other strong players.
Isleib is also excited about the prospect of completing a college education. Although she has some academic challenges due to dyslexia, a learning disability, her coaches and the university’s athletic department have already assured Isleib that she will have all the necessary tools to succeed.
"I think I’ll be fine as long as I have people helping," Isleib said.
Isleib has always been known for helping others herself. Her dedication to the team concept is part of what makes her so successful. Even after winning the Adidas and Gatorade Utah state player of the year awards, she was still happier for the Miners’ state-title winning feat.
"It was a big accomplishment, but I like winning State and the state cup better, because it’s a team," Isleib said, " I fell like I accomplished what I wanted to, but I don’t play to win stuff. As much as these awards mean, I’d just rather play more than anything."
In fact, her proudest moment was winning state in her last year, as well as Park City head coach Chip Cook’s last season.
"She was an awesome coach. She really helped us," Cook said. "The reason we won is we were a close team."
It’s this team-centered attitude that she is taking to the Utes this next year. Rather than setting far-reaching goals, the humble and grounded Isleib just hopes to contribute in the early stages of her college career.
Isleib has the guidance of her brother David who also played college soccer and balanced athletics with some academic challenges.
"He’s been a big part and taught me a lot,’ Isleib said. " He was in the same boat. He’s been a big help in that aspect."
It was also David that taught Isleib a lot about the game. As a youngster, she played mostly with boys and adopted her brother’s flashy style.
It’s this flashiness that has already has Manning salivating for next season.
"I want more like her. I want to win and I want to play great soccer, but I want to be entertaining," Manning said. "I want to see more in the world that play with her special flair."
Isleib brings a skill set that to the Utes that Manning didn’t have previously. Besides her flashy play, Isleib has excellent field vision and the ability to break down defenses on the dribble. Manning compares her to a great college football running back, who can look right past their first defender and concentrate on the next.
"She’s the triple threat," Manning said. "I’m looking for an attacker that can do it all."
Manning is concerned about Isleib’s knee recovery process, but plans to deal with the situation as it comes and has yet to make any decisions about next fall.
"When the day comes that she’s really well, we’ll sit her down and make a decision," Manning said.
For now, Manning will hold open camps in the preseason, during which any player can move up or down on the depth chart.
"There is no doubt in my mind that she’ll make a tremendous impact the first time she steps on the field," Manning said.
"I think that Kelly is capable of going as far as she willing to put in," Cook said. "She has every possible asset that a soccer player can want. She has the technical knowledge and the tactical knowledge."
Manning thinks that he biggest contribution that Isleib will make is just being herself.
"All the soccer talent aside, she has one of those magnetic personalities," Manning said. "People love playing with her and being around her. Not only her talent and passion for the game, but her winning personality she will shine on our team. I hope people will want to come out and watch her."
Key Kelly stats:
– One of 50 players in the U-20 Women’s National Pool at age 18.
– Adidas 2005 National Soccer Coaches Association of America award, Utah Gatorade Player of the Year.
– Named 3A High School MVP her junior and senior year.
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