Murray County High School senior goalkeeper Kelsey Pack’s instincts have been valuable to the Lady Indians in the past.
In a recent tryout with Tennessee Temple University, they were valuable to her future.
Pack — who didn’t start playing soccer until high school — signed a partial athletic scholarship with the Chattanooga college on Thursday at Murray County. Next season, she will be in the running to help the Lady Crusaders’ goalie depth woes.
Pack’s target was to play soccer in college, regardless of the level. Around a month ago, she was invited to an open tryout at Tennessee Temple, a Division I member of the National Christian College Athletic Association. She impressed coach Emmanuel Awotula enough to receive a verbal scholarship offer that day.
“Some of the instincts, you can’t teach that,” he said. “As a goalkeeper, you either have it or you don’t. As an instinct keeper, she’s very good. She has a raw talent.”
Those instincts come from the way she learned how to play — teaching herself. Before her freshman year, her athletic experience was in basketball and softball. But Murray County needed a goalkeeper, so she joined the Lady Indians.
“It was kind of scary,” she said of her freshman year. “I played one varsity game and I got a knee to my face. I wouldn’t let it get to me. I loved it. It was kind of like softball, because I played catcher. It’s kind of the same thing.”
In her sophomore and junior seasons, Murray County struggled. Last year, Pack was the lone returning starter for Murray County, which only won one game, and she averaged 13 saves per game.
The 2013 schedule has included much more success on the scoreboard. The Lady Indians are 6-4 overall and 6-2 in Region 7-2A play following a 2-1 loss to Dade County on Thursday. Pack has allowed 20 goals this year, with nearly half coming in a 9-0 loss to Southeast Whitfield.
“She’s such a great leader on the field and off the field as well,” said Murray County coach Mandy Ledford, who is in her second season leading the Lady Indians. “She’s been our team captain both this year and last year.
“I was shocked when I found out last year she had been playing for just two years.”
Pack has noticed a significant contrast between her first year playing the sport and now.
“I learned everything by myself,” she said. “All the goalkeeper stuff. I got some training with my punts, but everything else I did by myself.”
Awotula believes there is some needed “refinement” to the skill set. From the start, Pack will be battling for playing time against three other goalkeepers. In the past, the Lady Crusaders only had one goalie on the roster.
“When it comes to goalkeeper, we have kind of struggled in the past,” Awotula said. “You can’t underestimate a big goalkeeper. She’s agile, moves well and understands positioning in the field. And she’s fearless. She’s not afraid to come out for the ball.”
Tennessee Temple went 7-11-1 last season, the best record in the program’s four years of existence. Pack did not have any other specific schools she was interested in because Tennessee Temple reached out first.
“I just felt like it was home,” Pack said of her official visit to the school a couple weeks after the tryout. “It also helps that I’m still close to home.”
With around two months left before graduation, and a senior season unfinished, Pack is “excited” about college and moving on to the next phase of her life and “something different.” Even when she is gone, she’ll still have some significance for the Lady Indians.
The current junior varsity goalkeeper, Paxton Dolly, is receiving advice from Pack. Dolly also was new to the sport as a freshman, but she’ll have something Pack didn’t have — a mentor.
“(Pack) is absolutely the epitome of the type of athlete that every coach wants on her team,” Ledford said.