Kennedy Wesley made (more) history on Wednesday. The 16-year-old soccer star from Rossmoor, California became the first sophomore to win the Gatorade National Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
Wesley led her Valley Christian High School team to the CIF-SS Division VI Championship and CIF Southern California Regional Division V Championship in 2017. The latter was the first regional title in school history.
“My favorite memory from the season was winning the CIF-SS Championship in March (against Grace Brethren),” Wesley told TopDrawerSoccer on Wednesday in a telephone interview. “We were all nervous before the game. It was a great result.”
Grace Brethren is a powerhouse in girls high school soccer with a number of college recruits on the roster. Valley Christian’s victory ended Grace Brethren’s run at a three-peat for the Division VI title and then knocked off the favorites again in the regional event to make history for the school.
The season was not always easy though. Valley Christian lost three games a row at the start of the season.
“The three losses were a wake-up call,” Wesley said. “We had to have a mentality shift.”
A renewed focus for the team got the group back to the winning ways, but it also changed Wesley’s role within the group.
“Up to that point, I was not much of a leader for the team,” Wesley said. “I began to take on more of that role within the team.”
She ended up leading the group to a pair of historic trophies for her school, which helped her land the honor as the best player in high school for the past season.
On Wednesday, former U.S. Women’s National Team forward Abby Wambach surprised Wesley on the soccer field with the award.
“I was told I was doing an interview and photoshoot for ESPN on top high school athletes,” Wesley said. “They told me that a former national team player was coming to do a couple of action shots with me. I saw Abby Wambach coming to the field on a golf cart and was pretty excited. We were doing some headers and then Abby goes back to the ball bag to grab something and pulls out the award.”
Wesley, mature beyond her years, was left with the speechless joy that accompanies the top individual honor in high school soccer. The teenager etched her place in the history book again, as the first Gatorade National Player of the Year in the history of Valley Christian, a private school located in Cerritos, California.
At the pinnacle of the national honors for this level, Welsey arrived there thanks to the guidance of many including her club coaches at So Cal Blues and her school coach who really allowed her to grow into a better player within the team.
“She’s been my motivator,” Wesley said when asked about her school coach Kim Looney. “Not just this season but as a freshman too. She is able to realize the potential that we have in us. Her positivity and attitude is so helpful.”
Looney helped Wesley reimagine how she saw the soccer field as the coach shifted the defender into a more advanced role as an attacking midfielder with her school team.
“I think I am looking at the game a lot differently,” Wesley said. “It has been beneficial to see the game from another spot on the field.”
Wesley, a defender at the club and international level, flourished as a midfielder in high school with 22 goals and nine assists during her sophomore campaign. The experience helped her evolve as a player, but she also recognized the limitations she had while playing at that level.
“I think it helped me a lot more in understanding my role as a leader,” Wesley said when asked about how playing for her high school team helped her game. “It is definitely a lower level, but I am able to play a different position than I do with my club.”
The teenager hardly has time to rest and celebrate her accomplishments from this past season. She is training for an upcoming U17 Women’s National Team camp in China. The group is preparing for World Cup qualifying in April of 2018.
Wesley is trying to accomplish another rare feat with the youth national team as she has the chance to play in two U17 World Cups after earning a spot on the 2016 U17 World Cup squad last year in Jordan. As one of few players with previous experience at that level, she looks to be emerging as a leader with the youth national team as well.