Sept. 22, 1999
PULLMAN, Wash. -- As a midfielder, Natalie Kehl would always be concerned that the opposition would slide into her territory unmarked. But lately, as so many things in her soccer life turn up missing, it's become a downright obsession.
The first thing she lost was her conditioning, although by no fault of her own. In sports, injuries happen. This year an injury happened to Kehl right before the season opener versus Boise State, September 4. For two weeks, Kehl was sidelined with a throbbing right knee. Yet even today, the specifics of her injury are a mystery.
At first they thought I tore my meniscus, but now they think I have enflamed tendons, Kehl said. "Now I just have to deal with the pain and play with it. After the season I'll figure out if I have to do something about it."
But she's also got to deal with those crucial missed weeks that robbed her of her endurance. "It's so frustrating because I worked my butt of in the preseason and came (into the season) in such good condition and then I get hurt," Kehl said. "I guess maybe this is a challenge for me to do extra."
So far that's exactly what she's done, creating extra personal workouts to try and catch-up to the conditioning of the team.
"I get frustrated in practice because my legs don't move," Kehl said. "And yeah, I probably should have taken (Monday) off like everyone else did, but I didn't. I went on a run because I'm trying to be as dedicated as I can. People expect me to do things, and when I don't do them, I let the team down. And I don't want to do that."
Kehl's been down before. Playing prep soccer at Spokane's Mead High, Kehl made the varsity squad as a sophomore, but never played. Her junior year it was the same story. But as a senior, Kehl enjoyed a coming-out party that few could match. Under a new coach, Kehl started every game en route to a Greater Spokane League-high 15 goals and league MVP honors. Her team finished with a 22-2 record, and finished second at state.
"I think that experience taught me a lot, not just in soccer, but in life," Kehl said. "I learned from that to work hard and not to give up because, almost all the time, everything will payoff in the end."
The end of Kehl's high school career brought her just a few miles south to WSU. Here, Kehl has found a new family in soccer, without having to leave her old one. But her ever-supportive parents won't be able to fill the bleachers as readily as they used to now that Kehl's 15-year-old sister Adriane has, like her sister before her, made the high school varsity team as a sophomore.
"Last year they came to pretty much all of my home games," Kehl said of her parents. "It's going to be different not having them in the stands when the national anthem goes off, because they are always there. And when they are not, there's something missing."
Yet despite all that's missing from Kehl's comfort zone, her foundation, soccer, still remains. Her sport, is something she still feels blessed to have, and is not ready to lose. Which is why when the grainy tape of the WSU marching band playing the national anthem is cranked over the public-address system at the Cougar Soccer Field Friday, Kehl is sure to have chills.
"When we line up and start doing the national anthem, I honestly feel like I'm going to start to cry," Kehl said. "I just can't believe that I'm out there. I get goosebumps every time."
ADDITIONAL NOTES ON NATILIE KEHL:
GOOOAAAL: Late in the match against Utah, Sept. 18, Kehl netted her first goal of the season. But it was only four goals ago that Kehl was searching for her first collegiate score. Last year, on the road against George Mason, Sept. 28, Kehl got in the scorebook. "I've never had that much adrenaline in my life," Kehl remembers. "I was on top of the world. I totally remember when I scored how I jumped up and down." But it's tough to be on Cloud Nine when your team just dropped its third straight, so the long-distance call from Virginia to her parents in Spokane took a little tact. "I was so happy, but I kind of made it quiet," Kehl said. "But my teammates new it was my first goal, and they were all very supportive."
ROLE MODELS: Fresh off the U.S. women's victory in the World Cup, and the third season of the WNBA, a generation of young girls have a gamut of female sports figures to look up to. But it wasn't the same when Kehl was growing up, so her motivation came in-house. "I never really had a Sheryl Swoops or a Mia Hamm to look up to," Kehl said. "It's mainly my dad who has pushed me to succeed because he knows how good I can be." Still, even at 19, Kehl is excited about the boom in women's sports. "I hope it will get people to watch our sport," she said. "A lot of people don't understand our sport. They think all we do is kick the ball around, but there is so much more to soccer that they don't understand."
MOVING ON: Kehl loves soccer. She won't hesitate to tell you that it's her life. But, at this point, she doesn't see herself continuing in soccer after graduation. "After college, I want to get a job and start a family," Kehl said. "I want sports to be in my life, though. Yeah, I'll go and kick the soccer ball around with maybe my kids or my friends when I'm older, but I don't really see myself going on and playing on any semi-pro teams or anything." Still undecided, Kehl is currently pursuing a kinesiology major at WSU.
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