MAHOMET – It is perhaps a bit ironic that The News-Gazette's Area Player of the Year in soccer doesn't want anyone coming near her feet.
Mahomet-Seymour junior Kelsie Donley has a thing for shoes, and her self-described obsession played itself out one day when an unsuspecting freshman tapped her on the foot and said, "Hey, great job!" after a game.
"And I freaked out on her," Donley said. "A few minutes later I felt so bad."
Donley can't even keep track of how many pairs of shoes she owns. Her compulsiveness is taken to an extreme, too: Her soccer cleats must be new and not-yet-broken-in. "I like them stiff," she said. "I don't like them worn-in."
If that doesn't qualify as irony, this does: One of the best soccer players in the area isn't even known most for her footwork. Donley is exceptional on "throw-ins," a commonly seen play that restarts the action after the ball has gone out of bounds.
Donley is so good at throw-ins that she handles that duty on the offensive half for her M-S and Little Illini teams.
Though she's decidedly wiry, Donley can throw the ball accurately to the middle of the field.
"It's a big deal," M-S goalkeeper Hillary Veitch said. "We're like, 'How the heck do you do it?' She says, 'I don't know, I just do it.'
"OK, well, keep doing it."
Among those who are envious of her ability: the boys.
"A lot of the boys in my school tell me I can throw it farther than them," Donley said. "They always want me to teach them how I do it, and I don't even know how I do it. Just a lucky talent, I guess."
Whether it is her penchant for shoes, her distinct ability in one aspect of the game or any number of other areas, Donley is a unique personality who is showing an impressive trajectory of improvement on the field.
She had 12 goals and seven assists this season for a Class 2A regional title team, but Donley's playmaking contributions extend beyond the nuts-and-bolts on the field. It's her mental approach that has helped her game grow.
Donley has always been a free spirit, a happy-go-lucky type with a quick wit – and unafraid to let it show. She has exasperated a coach or two in her time, the boss having been fed up with Donley's wisecracks.
"She's hilarious," Veitch said.
"We used to not be able to control our laughter," Donley said, referring to her partner-in-ridicule, teammate Kara Breedlove.
But, perhaps naturally, things began to change recently. Now 17, Donley credits a new sense of awareness in helping her take a different approach toward her sport.
"I had a different attitude (this year)," she said. "I wanted it more, and I was more serious. I think I matured a lot from the year before."
Playing for Little Illini Soccer Club, she said, made her take the game more seriously. Plus, she was intent this spring on guiding her high school team to a highly coveted regional championship, as each of the past two seasons ended in bitter disappointments.
"This year," Veitch said, "she was really, really motivated and obviously it showed."
Donley teamed with Breedlove to form a prolific tandem. She also was an unfailing leader, providing positive feedback for her teammates whenever she could. And that no doubt played an important role in what the Bulldogs said, by acclimation, was outstanding team chemistry.
"It was one of those teams that just clicked," Donley said. "Everybody got along."
For that, Donley deserves some credit. Fortunately for her, all of her teammates now know that she takes her shoes seriously. Leave 'em alone. And they know that if someone needs a good pick-me-up, Donley will be there with an encouraging word, a smile and a one-liner.
That's just her.
"She's really sweet," Veitch said.
12th N-G All-Area Girls' Soccer Team
POSITION PLAYER YEAR SCHOOL COACH
Goalkeeper Hillary Veitch Jr. Mahomet-Seymour Neil Anderson
Forward Hannah Smith Jr. Monticello Lois Cryder
Forward Kelsie Donley Jr. Mahomet-Seymour Neil Anderson
Forward Kate Russell Sr. Urbana Craig Huff
Forward Kim Vega Jr. Champaign Central Kara Wilken
Forward Nora Al-Qadi Jr. Centennial Hsiung Marler
Forward Kara Breedlove Jr. Mahomet-Seymour Neil Anderson
Midfielder Erika Belmont Jr. Urbana University Phil Anders
Midfielder Amanda Greco Sr. Champaign Central Kara Wilken
Midfielder Paige Whippo Sr. Centennial Hsiung Marler
Midfielder Michelle Wong Jr. Urbana University Phil Anders
Defender Allegra Wentworth Jr. Urbana Craig Huff
POSITION PLAYER YEAR SCHOOL COACH
Goalkeeper Micaela McLennand Jr. Centennial Hsiung Marler
Goalkeeper Aubrey Morse Sr. Urbana Craig Huff
Forward Grace Ayodele Fr. Centennial Hsiung Marler
Forward Brittney Gallivan Sr. Monticello Lois Cryder
Forward Zoe Keller Sr. Urbana Craig Huff
Midfielder Joy Shapley Sr. Urbana University Phil Anders
Defender Sarah Moe Sr. Champaign Central Kara Wilken
Defender Jamie Legner Jr. Mahomet-Seymour Neil Anderson
Defender Mia Gilliam Jr. Champaign Central Kara Wilken
Defender Anne Machesky Sr. Urbana University Phil Anders
Defender Jenna Eaton Jr. Centennial Hsiung Marler
Defender Ellen Moe Soph. Champaign Central Kara Wilken