Soccer star gets full ride with NCAA’s Alcorn State

A lot of people in Maple Ridge are probably passingly familiar with Kimberly Connolly.

Kimberly Connolly (left) has a scholarship with Alcorn State of the NCAA.

Kimberly Connolly (left) has a scholarship with Alcorn State of the NCAA.

A lot of people in Maple Ridge are probably passingly familiar with Kimberly Connolly.

She’s been the kid they have seen out on the pitch at Westview with a soccer ball, her dad playing goal for her as she hammers shots from 20 or more metres out, the ball curling and dropping into the top corners of the net.

Now she’s the young woman who will be playing centre midfield for a NCAA first division team.

Connolly has parlayed her soccer talents and straight-A grades into a full-ride scholarship with Alcorn State University in Mississippi.

She was pursued by numerous schools across the U.S., and more on Canada’s East Coast – more than 20 offers in total.

After carefully considering all the options, she chose to play the top level possible.

“Div one will be a step up, but I can handle it,” she said. “It’s something I’ve always dreamed of.”

She also fell for the facilities and the atmosphere at Alcorn.

“It reminds me of the Okanagan – rolling hills, and really pretty.”

Connolly, a Thomas Haney Grade 12 student with about a 95 per cent average, plans to study kinesiology.

She has enjoyed a lot of success on the pitch. Connolly started soccer locally, but had to transfer to neighbouring minor soccer associations to play at the highest level. She played Metro with Surrey United, and won a provincial championship at the under-15 level.

At U17, she went to the premier league, where she played with the Vancouver Fusion. They won their league and went on to the nationals in Sydney, N.S.

Unfortunately, most of her teammates were away at university while nationals were being held, so a B.C. team that she says should have won the event finished seventh.

She also played in the Super Y League at the U16 level for Mountain FC of Burnaby, and took third at the Super Y nationals in Florida.

Connolly played high-level softball with the Ridge Meadows Pride, and was the centrefielder for a team that went to the nationals in pee wee.

But she found it impossible to pursue both sports at an elite level.

“It came to a point where I had to choose. Soccer’s my passion.”

It’s her goalkeeper and father’s passion too – although he was a standout ball player back in the day. As she talks, Scott works a PC keyboard, bringing up some of the many video highlights he has of her impressive scoring strikes. He has a stack of letters from university recruiters.

The video evidence confirms the many good things her coach with the Vancouver U18 Fusion says about Kimberly.

“She’s a hard-working kid. She gets her nose in there – she’s not afraid to get into a tackle,” said Marc Rizzardo.

Mostly she takes an attacking role on the Fusion, showing good vision and ball distribution, he said.

He also likes her ball striking on set pieces.

“She can put it around the wall, and she’s done that a couple of times this year.”

He said the biggest change for her will be playing against bigger, stronger women who are four years older than her in the NCAA. It is a physical game at that level, and he said most of the first division teams will red shirt a rookie for their first year.

The upside is that the U.S. colleges typically do an excellent job getting the most strength and fitness out of their athletes.

“She’s going to have to work on all aspects of her game,” said Rizzardo.

“She’s a nice kid, and she deserves it. She’s worked hard for it.”

For Connolly, it’s nothing less than a dream come true.

“It’s an amazing opportunity –one I’m really looking forward to.”