Impossible attack angles and a knack at baiting defenses into mistakes, Maddie Kessler has an uncanny touch on offense.
The freshman’s ability to net the ball played a huge role in Mead girls soccer’s successful inaugural run in Class 4A competition. But when she takes stock of what has made her one of the most productive scorers in the Tri-Valley Conference, she does not reflect on years of seasoning as a go-to striker. Far from it, in fact.
Instead, Kessler’s nose for the net was sharpened at the other end of the field with her background in the defensive backfield making her potent as strychnine on the attack.
“That’s what I’ve telling people has been the reason I’ve been able to score, I understand the defensive mindset after playing there,” Kessler said.
The 2013 Times-Call girls soccer Player of the Year really had little idea she would finish with 15 goals and lead Mead to a berth in the 4A tournament. Entering her first season of high school competition, she had much more humble aspirations than becoming her team’s offensive star.
Her ambitions leaned more towards learning the ropes of midfield, squaring away a starting spot, and picking up the pace of the new level of play. But those aims were put on hold early into the season when Mead suffered a huge blow to its roster. Morgan Lu tore her ACL six games into the schedule in a freak injury where she planted wrong. The complexion of the Mavericks’ season changed entirely at that point, with the team deprived of its leading scorer.
“When you lose a player as fast as Morgan, you lose an entire element of your game,” Mead coach Mike Schulz said. “She was the heart and soul of the offense, but we were able to overcome her absence because our kids were willing to adapt.”
Kessler made one of the more dramatic adjustments, moving from distributing the ball at center midfield to striking goals at the wing. And she did so with relish, netting the ball in nine of her team’s final 13 games.
Kessler also rose to the occasion, producing some of her most prolific offensive outings against some of the Mavericks’ steepest competition. While Mead lost 7-4 to Windsor in the Tri-Valley foes’ first meeting, Kessler performed at a different level by scoring all four goals.
“Everything just fell into place for her that game and she came off the field with all our goals,” Schulz said. “It was an impressive game.”
The outing even had the usually modest Kessler puffed up over what she was able to accomplish.
“I had a lot of fun,” Kessler said. “Those were the first goals scored on Windsor in conference. I just got some good chances to score that game.”
While Kessler’s soccer career in recent years has been squarely situated in the backfield, she was ready for her shot on the attack. She had played forward early in her career and made her intentions clear from the get-go she wanted another shot at scoring goals.
“First time I met her at a kick-around last summer I told her I had heard she was a defensive player,” Schulz said. “She said she was, but wanted to play offense for me.”
From deftly moving positions to finding the open cracks in the net, Kessler has accomplished a lot for a freshman. And she understands she has set the bar high for herself the rest of her career. But similar to all the other challenges she has faced, it is likely to only bring out the best in the Maverick.
“It will definitely be hard to keep topping what I did this year these next seasons,” she said. “But I plan to keep raising the bar for myself each year.”
Follow Elwood on Twitter @ElwoodKShelton.