By ADAM STILLMAN
COLUMBIA — When Rock Bridge senior soccer player Lauren Kelly tore her anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee after her sophomore season in 2006, she didn’t know if she would ever be the same.
Now the forward is leading the Bruins with five goals in six games and is on her way to Webster University next season to play soccer for the NCAA Division III Gorloks.
Kelly scored on a beautifully placed free-kick in the 71st minute on Thursday night in Rock Bridge’s 4-1 loss to visiting Blue Valley Northwest. Kelly’s 30-yard blast cut the Bruins’ deficit to 2-1, but Blue Valley Northwest scored twice in the last five minutes, dropping Rock Bridge to 2-7.
Kelly’s goal is proof her injury is long gone.
“When I tore it, immediately I knew it happened,” Kelly said. “I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to compete.”
Kelly had just come off an impressive season, achieving all-conference, all-district, and all-region honors, as well as being named state honorable mention.
“It was the best season of my life,” Kelly said. “Then it was gone after one practice.”
She diligently rehabbed throughout the summer, and 4½ months later, she started playing indoor soccer in a women’s league at the Missouri Athletic Center. Kelly called it a “mom’s league” and said it was good for her because they were not as physical as she was used too.
She sat out her junior year of basketball in hopes of being ready when soccer season started her junior year. Kelly said she came back ready to play but after the injury, she realized there was more to life than just soccer.
“I was looking at Division I a little bit,” Kelly said. “Once I tore my ACL, I hung out more with my friends. I wanted to play again at college, but there are other things. I’m still competitive, but I feel with Division I you don’t have a life.”
Kelly felt that Webster University, a private school in Saint Louis with an undergraduate enrollment just greater than 3,500, would provide her with a good opportunity.
“At first I just went because they sent me some stuff,” Kelly said.
She then met Webster coach Luigi Scire and knew it was the right fit.
“Coach is personal,” Kelly said. “He still talks to me. He does everything possible to help me out. It’s more than just soccer. He talks about grades too.”
Kelly still finds joy in soccer.
“Being competitive and fighting for the ball — it makes me happy,” Kelly said. “It’s something I’ve always loved.”
Kelly grew up playing the game, starting in kindergarten. She even played on a boys competitive team for three years.
“I always wanted to do what the guys were doing,” Kelly said.
She then came to Rock Bridge, where she has started all four years on varsity.
Kelly said late Hickman soccer coach Jon Strodtman was her teacher freshman year, and he is one of her greatest inspirations.
“We talked all the time about soccer,” Kelly said.” He helped me with my mental game a lot. He taught me to play for yourself and the team too.”
Strodtman’s tutelage is paying dividends. Kelly helped lead her team to a district championship in 2007 and expectations are high for this season.
“Not only is she a leader off the field,” Rock Bridge coach Kelly Gates said. “She brings it on the field with her intensity, vision and skills.”
Kelly poses a legitimate threat to any opposing defense when she steps onto the field.
“Her goal scoring ability — she is dangerous when she’s up top,” Gates said.
Kelly just hopes her knee holds up.