When you think of college soccer, you think of big-time universities such as: The Florida State University or UCLA, but the SunBelt Conference holds an upcoming college soccer star rising through the ranks who can change that mold all-together. Appalachian State University Freshman Kelly Flanders is poised to make an impact after an outstanding freshman year for years to come.
“Kelly is an inspiration through her work rate, her achievement, and her leadership,” states Appalachian State Women’s Soccer Coach Sarah Strickland. This is only one of a few great things that current and former teammates, coaches, and community leaders had to say about Kelly Flanders.
Since graduating from Hope High School in Huntersville, N.C., Kelly Elizabeth Flanders has excelled at adapting to college level soccer. In high school Flanders lettered four years in the sport. She also was named all-conference and all-region during her sophomore and junior seasons. In high school while earning her soccer team’s MVP award, Flanders also went on to score the most goals during her sophomore and junior campaigns. Flanders career at Hopewell High School ended with her having 45 goals and 13 assists, including 22 goals during her junior season.
In her freshman year at Appalachian State University as a member of the Women’s Soccer Team, Flanders played a major role in the development of Coach Strickland’s team. Playing in all 19 conference and non-conference games and over 1,700 minutes. “Kelly is a center back, a defensive midfielder, and an attacking midfielder...Honestly, she fits wherever we need a solution,” said Coach Sarah Strickland.
Flanders also takes the consideration of others in modeling her game. When asked who she tailored her game after and who she looked up to Flanders said, “Kyle Beckerman, because he can come on the field and bring a completely new demeanor, one that is level-headed…I see him as a player that may sometimes go unnoticed, because he does not always do spectacular things, but he often does the necessary things that lead to the excitement and positive outcomes.”
Flanders is only a freshman, but has the experience and the mind-set of a veteran player. She is constantly prepared and training for what is next for her and the team. Flanders has a great knowledge of soccer and has what it takes to develop into one of the greatest of all-time at Appalachian State University when it’s all said and done.
Flanders was generous enough to allow me the opportunity to share her knowledge of soccer and information about herself with our readers.
1. How long have you been playing soccer?
Kelly: I have been playing soccer since I was 5 years old. I have been playing competitively since I was nine years old.
2. What did you do when you were younger that sets you apart from other players now?
Kelly: My brother and sister are seven years younger than me, so for quite a while I was an only child and they did not reach an age where they could play with me for even longer after that. I spent a lot of time outside playing soccer and practicing by myself. My first competitive coach told us that our ball should be our best friend… my ball probably actually was one of my best friends. I practiced juggling A LOT; my record was 628. I don’t know that I could do that now, but I don’t spend nearly as much time juggling as I did then. That really helped me to improve my touch, especially with balls out of the air. There was also one summer that I worked on my left foot almost every single day. I went through a phase where that’s all I would do: dribble and shoot at the goal in the back yard with my left foot. I would say that I learned to use both feet much earlier than other players, which helped me tremendously. Because of that summer, I regularly get asked if I am left footed. The answer is no, I am not, but I do prefer my left foot.
3. What did it take to get to the level?
Kelly: As I discussed a little bit above, I spent an immense amount of time practicing on my own. Even if it was just for 10 or 15 minutes a day, touching a ball a little bit every day allowed my skill to improve by that little bit every day. The concept of “never being satisfied” has also played a great role in my development. I began playing competitive soccer a year later than I could have, so started my career on the bottom of three teams at my club. The following year I made the second team and the first team a year after that. The next year I made the top state team (NC ODP). I played on the first team for five years. About half a year following the conclusion of my last ODP season, I committed to play Division I soccer at Appalachian State University. Not only was I consistently pushing myself to the next level, the teams that I were on were constantly working to achieve the next goal. My club team was one of the first quality teams on the girl’s side of the club. We paved the way for future generations at our club by appearing in 3 final fours and advancing to 2 championship games in the NCYSA State Cup, and by being the first girls’ team to play in the Premier and Region III leagues. We were also the first to bring home trophies from well-recognized and prestigious tournaments such as the Disney Soccer Showcase and Jefferson Cup. There is always something more to work for and something higher to achieve. To this day I have not stopped working and training to achieve higher goals. I hope to be a part of paving an exciting future for ASUWS, as we strive to move further in the Conference Tournament to eventually play in the NCAA Tournament.
4. Where did you play youth/club soccer?
Kelly: I played my entire soccer career for what is now Carolina Rapids Soccer Club, previously North Meck Soccer Club and North Mecklenburg Youth Soccer Association.
5. Who influences your style of play the most?
Kelly: My coaches have had the greatest influence on my playing style. I think it is fair to say that I am a very coachable player, so I take their criticism, strategies, and instruction very seriously and do my best to incorporate their goals into my style of play. I am very possession oriented and have a desire to keep the ball and play simple and on the ground, while still finding high percentage ways to be creative and successful. My club soccer coaches throughout high school played a crucial role on teaching me in this manner and helping me develop the confidence and skill to be able to play in a calm and precise manner.
6. What is something you have done at a consistent level to improve in a certain area?
Kelly: The most consistent thing I do to improve is run and do other fitness activities to ensure that I am staying on top of my fitness level. If I am not fit enough, I cannot be successful in other areas. Other things that I do to improve are playing in pickup games with different people challenges me to compete with very different styles of play. I also spend some time by myself with the ball working on my touch or moves. During the offseason, I consistently spend time doing either of these things, but during season when we are practicing regularly, I am not as committed to spending additional time on my own.
7. Who is your favorite professional soccer player and why?
Kelly: My favorite professional soccer player is Kyle Beckerman, because he is a holding midfielder who is capable of changing any game. He can come on the field and bring a completely new demeanor, one that is level-headed. His presence as a defensive midfielder is one that keeps the team on the right track, and he does a great job of becoming an outlet for any teammates in pressure as well as winning balls out of the air. I see him as a player that may sometimes go unnoticed, because he does not always do spectacular things, but he often does the necessary things that lead to the excitement and positive outcomes.
8. What are your favorite meals before and after games?
Kelly: Before a game I like to eat bagels and fruit, and generally right before I start warming up for a game I will need to eat a granola bar or a snack of some sort. After games, I usually don’t like big meals, strangely enough. I would rather just have a salad, some chocolate milk, and probably some candy.
9. What advice do you have for young players looking to get to the DI level or beyond?
Kelly: For younger players, I would say that the number one thing is to HAVE FUN. If you are not having fun, chances are you are not going to get better, you are not going to be as fully invested, and you are not going to have that uncontrollable inner desire to push yourself to do your best at all times for yourself and for your teammates. Be willing to try new things, whether that is a new formation, a new position, a new style of play, a new coach, new teammates, etc. We would never improve in anything without change and adjustment, so be willing and be positive. It may result in something more exciting that you ever imagined. Being a versatile player is extremely valuable and can be fun, so do your best wherever your coach may put you and trust that they believe in you and see potential in you. They wouldn’t have put you in that position if they didn’t. Accept challenges and know that you will lose games. It is not about the game you lost, it’s about what you did as a result. How will you overcome it?
10. What is your favorite soccer memory, as a fan or as a player?
Kelly: My freshman summer of high school, I went on a mission trip with my church youth group to Honduras. The first day there we visited an all-boys orphanage, and naturally as the world’s favorite sport we began a game of soccer. I was one of the few girls playing, and with a group of elementary and middle school aged boys in a society where females rarely participated in physical activity, I was quickly written off as just another player. As we played for longer, they eventually recognized that I had played soccer a time or two in my life, and seeing a female who was a decent soccer player was this new amazing phenomenon to them. It was a huge celebration any time I scored…or really any time I got the ball and did something good, without losing it. They began passing to me more and more often, and eventually this turned into a quality soccer game with combination passing, through balls, and other fancy moves. I enjoyed being able to serve others through my biggest passion in life. I was able to share love and fun through playing a game. We had so much fun that we played through the torrential downpour of the tropical location. The neatest part of playing with them was overcoming the language barrier. We didn’t need to be able to speak the same language to play the game we loved; we used hand motions and basic words like “ball” in both Spanish and English to overcome this. It was here that I first learned that soccer was its own language, one that can almost be considered universal at that. All it took was a ball, a couple objects to mark of goals, a muddy cow pasture, and few people who wanted to collaborate together to show love through the game we all loved.