While the team practiced corner kicks, Xavier girls soccer coach Barb Chura would joke with defender Kellie Peay about never letting her standout defender move up to be a forward in those situations, even with Peay’s obvious header and ball-in-the-air skills.
Chura moved her up anyway, but during an early-round state tournament match, Peay estimated that she had six chances to score off headers and missed each time.
She kept moving up, and it became fitting that the junior’s second goal of the season was a header off an Alexis Allard corner kick with barely nine minutes left in regulation which won the Division I state championship.
But only before and after she shut down Desert Vista in the back, capped by a nice gash across her head suffered during a collision.
“It was super weird but it worked out,” Peay said.
Welcome to the 2012-2013 version of Xavier. Of the 25 kids on the roster, 15 missed at least a week due to illness or injuries. Three were lost for the season, and another gaping offensive hole was created when Nikki Walts transferred to Desert Mountain in early January.
Peay, defensive teammate Amanda Lane, Michaela Dooley and Cassidy Cunningham were left. The rest became something of a rotation of kids in and out of the lineup, many called up from JV one day and in the starting lineup the next day.
“Everyone was getting injured we figured they would be back, but when we realized they weren’t, we started getting nervous, especially after Nikki leaving,” she said. “I needed to step up and tell people what to do, where to be. The JV girls did awesome and I thought we had it and then everything started happening, but then wondered maybe about next year. Getting (to the championship game), then we felt like we could do it.”
Peay isn’t the Tribune Player of the Year simply because she had the state championship-winning goal, but because of her defensive prowess, organization, skills and led Xavier’s lockdown defense through a mish mash of lineup changes and kids who’d either not played varsity soccer, or defense, during the 2012-2013 season.
She was often the last woman standing, and was the most impactful defender on the field in the month of February.
“It was fitting for everything she was this year,” Chura said of the final goal. “She’s the glue. She does everything that doesn’t show up in a boxscore. The circus that it was back there, she was the stable one.”
Peay began as a forward in fourth grade, but moved to defense in sixth grade.
“I hated it because there was no purpose except to boot the ball out of the zone,” she said.
That changed in junior high as her skills developed, especially when the ball was in the air.
These days she takes the air out of opponents’ shots, on the rare chance they even get one.
“When someone tries to beat me and I stop them, it’s the best feeling,” she said. “When you get beat, it’s the worst feeling. I’m glad it didn’t happen much.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.