Isleib has been playing tough her whole life

By By Matt Sanchez

By Matt Sanchez

When you make the trip to Ute Field to watch a soccer game, the experience is what you’d expect8212;the perfect mixture of the smells of hot dogs and freshly cut grass fill the air. You look around: players, fans, coaches8212;check. You nestle into the bleachers and admire the mountains that you swear could be a painting. Then the game starts. You no doubt start to wonder, “Why is No. 23 in red so good?” and “How does she make dribbling through an entire defense look so easy?”

The answer might surprise you.

Before Kelly Isleib was the star midfielder for the U soccer team, she took a different road than most.

Isleib comes from a close-knit and athletic family. Her father, two older sisters and older brother all played soccer at the collegiate level and showed her at a young age what it meant to compete.

She was the youngest child and as she recalls, was always around soccer and had to go to every game her older siblings played in.

“Before I knew how to do anything, I was kicking around a soccer ball at my sister’s games,” Isleib said. “I played a ton of sports growing up, but soccer was the one that I was drawn to, and it became my passion.”

Isleib credits her older brother David for helping hone her game as he taught her valuable lessons when they played pick-up soccer games with the boys.

“I have three sisters,” David Isleib said. “Kelly was the youngest, and we got along so well, so she was kind of like my little brother. She was always so good at everything8212;tennis, golf, soccer. She had a natural feel for sports and I liked playing with her.”

Now imagine you’re in Park City and you see a large grass field filled with athletic and speedy boys all trying to one-up each other. On this field, soccer games could go on for hours and nobody was worried about hurt feelings or sore shins. They played, they got better and they had fun.

Keep that image in your head and insert Kelly Isleib into the mix. She’s half the size of the boys and doesn’t have the same skill, speed or stamina to compete8212;but game after game, she keeps coming.

Even when Isleib played, the boys didn’t ease up and usually played harder when she was in their way. They had no qualms about pushing over a girl8212;if she wanted to play, then she had better come to play. At first, Isleib would shy away from contact and succumb to the talent of the boys, and then something happened.

“When I took her with me to these pick-up games, she would give into the guys and was afraid to push and fight them back,” David Isleib said. “I remember telling her, “Kelly, you need to step it up and just play soccer. Don’t worry about them8212;you’re better than they are. Now go show them.’ ”

As the years went on, Kelly Isleib did become better8212;a lot better. She competed with boys on a regular basis until high school.

High school is a time of change. Often your life feels like a whirlwind as you are constantly searching for your own identity. Am I a jock? Should I want to take home ec? What if I’m not good at school and don’t like it? All those are questions No. 23 found herself trying to answer.

During this time of self-discovery, Isleib knew what she wanted to do.

David Isleib recalls his sister’s determined attitude.

“She trains8212;and has always trained8212;so hard,” he said. “In high school, when kids went off to dances, Kelly would go run three miles.”

Kelly Isleib was named the state 3A MVP in ’04 and ’05 while leading Park City High School to back-to-back state championships. She was named to the 2005 NSCAA Adidas All-American Team and was a member of the under-20 U.S. National Team player pool. Just when everything was going perfect, Isleib had a devastating turn of events.

During her senior year of high school, she tore an ACL and was sidelined from play. As she recalls, it was a difficult time for her as she struggled to get back on the field.

She battled back and rehabilitated her injured knee in time to play her freshman season at the U. In fact, she started all 22 games and was named co-freshman of the year.

Now in her senior season, Isleib has become an all-around threat on the field. She has a powerful leg and is deadly from striking distance but would rather get an assist than a goal8212;as proven by her title of all-time leader in assists (25).

Her head coach, Rich Manning, knows how lucky he is to have a talent like Isleib on the team.

“As a player, Kelly is as skilled as any I’ve ever coached,” Manning said. “She can make any play on the field and conducts the action like a maestro.”

Isleib said she is always getting asked the question, “What will you do when you’re done playing soccer?” But for her, there is no being done.

“I’ve always loved soccer and have never gotten to the point where I’m glad to be done,” Isleib said. “When that day comes, I’ll be nervous.”

After college, her dream job is to go into coaching. She gets a smile on her face and wide eyes when she talks about helping a young person on and off the soccer field.

Before she steps off the field and onto the sidelines, Isleib is fighting for a championship with a team that is full of chemistry, potential and talent.

The next time you’re watching No. 23 in red, you’ll know how she makes it look so easy.

Richard payson