Women’s soccer alum adds national champion to accolade list

Maegan+Kelly+fights+for+the+ball+against+a+Blue+Demon+April+30%2C+2011.+%28Photo+courtesy+of+Marquette+Athletics.%29

Maegan Kelly fights for the ball against a Blue Demon April 30, 2011. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

For most college athletes, getting the opportunity to play the sport they love at the professional level is rare. It is even rarer when they win a championship with their new team. 

For former Marquette women’s soccer midfielder, Maegan Kelly, that experience came to fruition this past summer when she played with the Houston Dash in the National Women’s Soccer League.

“It was a really cool experience,” Kelly said. “We all were just on the same page, and we all wanted to win and we all wanted to prove people wrong. To be a part of that, to know every person had their role and were willing to do whatever they had to do for us to win, you don’t see that on every team.” 

Though he believes the television coverage of the tournament was “screwed up” due to the games not airing live, head coach Frank Pelaez sat back and was able to watch his former player succeed. 

“We sat, we watched and to be honest with you, did she play much? No, but here is Maegan Kelly. They win and she’s the first one sprinting out there to celebrate,” Pelaez said. “I was in tears, because look how happy she is.” 

The relationship between Pelaez and Kelly dates back to before Kelly joined the Golden Eagles in 2010. 

“She would come to Marquette when her older sister (Katie) was playing for us and she would sit in the office with me,” Pelaez said. “I remember her being younger, junior or sophomore in high school, and she just has this edge like, ‘oh, I’m gonna play here one day and I’m gonna break records one day,’ and I was like, ‘Really? I love that about you. You know that your older sister is pretty darn good’ and she was like, ‘I am better than her.’”

The first-year head coach recalls a photo of Kelly and him from the team’s preseason trip in 2013, Kelly’s senior season. The picture consists of Kelly having her arm around Pelaez as they are walking back towards the lodge to pack up and head back to Milwaukee. It is what Kelly says in response to something Pelaez said to the NCAA Division I All-Northeast Region First Team honoree.

“I get kind of emotional (because) I tell them, ‘These are the best days of your life and you are a senior. Enjoy it,” Pealez said. “She is like, ‘Why are you sad’ and I’m like, ‘Because that was my last preseason with you.'”

For Kelly, the relationship with her then-assistant coach still remains a special one. 

“It’s been six years since I’ve left the program and I still feel part of that family of Marquette and they do a really good job of just you know, allowing alumni to come back into the family that they had and just continue that whole big family thing,”  Kelly said. “I love that Frank is back because it just keeps that whole family bond within the program of the 25 years that they’ve been doing this.”

Kelly said playing with laughter and energy remains an important part of her style of play today. She said the reason she plays the game is because she  loves playing the sport.

“When we were younger, we had fun, we were laughing, we were enjoying the process and enjoying what we’re doing on the field,” Kelly said. “When we get older and we get more competitive, we kind of lose sight of that kind of thing, so I try to remember to bring that into the environment that I am in because you also play better when you’re happier and when things are more enjoyable.”

During her time with the program, Kelly experienced a stretch where MU won four BIG EAST regular-season championships, two BIG EAST Tournament championships and made it to the NCAA Tournament all four years. The Golden Eagles went a combined 70-15-6 over that span. 

“I never really looked at the accolades and the goals and all those things. I just wanted my team to be the best we could be and win,” Kelly said. “So, if that meant scoring a goal today and passing the ball off tomorrow, then that’s what I had to do.”

Growing up in a family where her dad, sister and younger brother all played soccer, and her mom played collegiate tennis, competitiveness became almost second nature for Kelly. 

“I’ve always been competitive. I mean, like, I never want to lose when one of my siblings and I would play in the backyard,” Kelly said. ” We actually do stupid two-on-two tournaments over Christmas holidays and like, on Christmas Day, we go to the field and play two-on-two and my dad’s like the neutral player. Girls versus boys. You know, you never want to lose, so I’ve always had a competitive mentality.” 

It is that competitive ferocity in the 2010 All-BIG EAST Rookie Team Honoree that made Pelaez realize Kelly would play professionally one day.

“She’s the kind of kid that will do anything in their power to put it in the back of her neck,” Pelaez said. “She can get cut, she can get beat up, she can get thrown around and it doesn’t matter, she gets back up. ” 

If it wasn’t for her older sister, Katie, Kelly said she might not have thought about playing at the next level. 

“My sister went over and played overseas so I just knew that if she could do it, I could do it,” Kelly said. “To be honest, if my sister didn’t go overseas and I probably wouldn’t have thought about it.” 

Looking back, Kelly said she grew through the program, but two teammates in particular served a major role in helping her grow: goalie Natalie Kula and midfielder Ally Miller.

“The way (Kula) just was able to hold herself and be the role model for everyone on the field even though she was a goalkeeper. She was able to relate even to the field players which I found amazing because that’s a hard thing to do and be able to do two jobs like that,” Kelly said. “(Miller’s) work ethic was always on point, like, she never gave up. She was always a worker during training so she would give her all every practice and you would never see a change.”

This past year, Kelly received one of the highest honors from Marquette Athletics, induction into the M Club Hall of Fame. Typically six players receive induction each year. 

“I’m incredibly grateful and proud because it’s not something that many people get,” Kelly said. “I’m just incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be able to be put up (there) with those names and to do it with several people that I went to school with as well.”

Kelly ranks first in program history in assists with 37, third in goals with 39, second in points with 115 and tied fourth in match-winning goals with 11. The Kansas City, Missouri native holds the record for most goals and points in a game when she scored four goals and collected 10 points against North Dakota on Sept. 4, 2011.

The three-time ALL-BIG EAST First Team honoree has one piece of advice for current and future women’s soccer players.

“Enjoy every moment because I always wish I could go back because I loved it so much,” Kelly said. “Just enjoy every single moment with the people you have around you because each year the team changes, you get new people and new people out, so just cherish those moments that you have with your teammates.” 

This article was written by John Leuzzi. He can be reached at john.leuzzi@marquette.edu or on Twitter @JohnLeuzziMU