Kristina Kelly of Camden Hills Regional High School is in a class by herself.
The dynamic striker at the Rockport school has achieved a rare feat for a Maine high school athlete in being named the United Soccer Coaches High School Girls National Player of the Year.
Kelly joins the select company of James Frost of Calais High School, who was the National High School Coaches Association Athlete of the Year in boys golf in 2002.
Kelly on Tuesday confirmed that she has received the honor.
“I’m still trying to soak it all in,” said the 17-year-old Kelly, who will take her skills to Central Connecticut State University next season. “It’s definitely shocking. I got a call last Thursday from the United Soccer Coaches and they told me [I had won it]. I couldn’t figure out what to say.”
Kelly, a team captain, earned All-America honors for the third straight year after totaling 49 goals and 20 assists this fall to lead Camden Hills to an 18-0 season and its fourth straight state title.
The four-year starter for concluded her career with 149 goals, third most in Maine soccer history. Kelly scored in 69 of her 72 matches and is a three-time Class A player of the year as well as the state’s 2018 Gatorade Maine girls soccer player of the year.
Windjammers coach Meredith Messer said it is overwhelming to think about how prestigious the award is and said it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person.
“She is so humble and she always has been. She doesn’t do anything for her own glory. It’s for the team,” Messer said. “[It has been nice] watching her mature and grow over the last four years and add pieces to her game each year.”
Kelly’s team-first attitude was showcased in the 2-1 victory over Scarborough in the state championship game when she dropped back from her striker position to center back with 10 minutes left and made a number of crucial interventions to protect the one-goal lead.
“I knew her goal was to score 50 goals this season but she looked at me [late in the game] and asked me if I wanted her to go back [on defense] now,” Messer said. “Her willingness to sacrifice for her team was amazing. She was a great team leader and role model.”
Kelly has always had breakaway speed and been able to score with both feet and Messer said several other intangibles set her apart from other players.
“She makes decisions so quickly and that’s very important for the next level. He field awareness is so much above people she plays with,” Messer said.
The 5-foot-3, 120-pound Kelly was always heavily marked by her opponents but was still able to be a game-changer who always came through.
“So much of it is the mental strength she developed over the years … how to handle pressure … how to score goals she had to score. That’s huge. Watching her get into a zone and score is a beautiful thing,” Messer added.
The daughter of Jack and Erika Kelly wrestles for her uncle, Patrick Kelly, who is the boys coach at Camden Hills High School, and that has been beneficial, according to Messer.
“That’s one of the biggest reasons I joined the wrestling team,” Kelly said. “I wasn’t sure if I would like it but I figured that even if it wasn’t my favorite sport, it would help me with soccer and it did just that.”
Kelly, who is sidelined while the nail on her thumb grows back after a wood-splitter accident, acknowledged that she is always trying to better herself.
“I am always trying to find ways to improve. I want to be able to do different things that set me apart from other players,” Kelly said.
She said Messer played a major role in her development. The coach would praise her but also give her constructive criticism.
“She pushed me to do my best because she knew how much I wanted to improve,” Kelly said.
In looking ahead to her college career for a team that went 1-1 in the NCAA tournament this season and was directed by ECAC Coach of the Year Mick D’Arcy, Kelly said she knows it is going to be a major adjustment.
“I’ll be going against defenses made up of college players who have had just as much success as I’ve had. I’m going to have to work hard and figure out how to play a little better,” she said.
This story was updated at 9:58 p.m. on Dec. 17, 2019, to reflect that James Frost of Calais High School, who was the National High School Coaches Association Athlete of the Year in boys golf in 2002.