Updated Nov. 25, 2000
By Pete LaFleur
When the Notre Dame women's soccer team traveled to Nebraska for a 1999 NCAA quarterfinal matchup, the Irish knew they'd be in for a battle. After 150 minutes of action had yielded just a 1-1 score, the game reverted to penalty kicks ... and each team converted three of five tries.
With a trip to the Women's College Cup now hinging on sudden-death penalty kicks, first-year Irish head coach Randy Waldrum approached a second group of five Notre Dame players-a fivesome that had been selected prior to the game but without any predetermined order for taking the sixth kick, etc.
"My philosophy has been not to have a preset order, because there are some kids who may not be ready-physically or mentally," says Waldrum. "You always prepare for PKs in practice but there's no way that you can duplicate the pressure, especially with the final four on the line."
Waldrum asked his group of "second-five" candidates who was ready to take the next kick. The result produced a most unlikely hero.
"Before Randy could get the words out of his mouth, my hand shot up in the air," says current senior defender and two-year team captain Kelly Lindsey. "The other players had this look on their faces, like 'Oh my gosh.' It felt like I was back in high school, when I used to play forward. I just knew that I wanted to take that kick."
Two factors made Lindsey's game-deciding effort all the more noteworthy. For starters, she had scored just four goals in three seasons with the Irish and had totaled zero points-no goals or assists-during the entire 1999 season. Adding to the intrigue was the fact that Lindsey hails from nearby Omaha and had passed up a chance to join the up-and-coming Nebraska program.
"When you are playing against a team from your home area, the last thing you want is people telling you things like, 'Oh, see, you should have gone to Nebraska.' So I had to take the kick, there was no doubt in my mind," says Lindsey.
Lindsey converted the kick and her roommate LaKeysia Beene made a diving stop on Nebraska's final try to send the Irish back to the NCAA semifinals. As it turns out, Lindsey's kick provided the Notre Dame program with invaluable experiences the following week, as it marked the first College Cup experience for Waldrum, assistant coach Amy Edwards and the members of the freshman and sophomore classes (it also led to the only championship game experience for the current senior class).
Lindsey-who ironically also had the primary assist on the game-winning goal that beat Nebraska (2-1) in the '98 quarterfinals-has made a name for herself at Notre Dame, due as much to her battling nature on the field as to her offbeat antics and caring personality off the field.
"The kid by all rights shouldn't even be playing, due to her surgeries," says Waldrum, in reference to a pair of operations in late 1998 and early 1999 on both of Lindsey's knees, followed by another setback this year that held her out of six midseason games.
"If people only could appreciate what she's gone through, they'd be amazed at how effective she is as a player. There have been times that we had to hold her out of practice just so we could have her for the games."
Lindsey's leadership has been crucial for an Irish defense that lost two starters to graduation, including four-time All-American and fellow central defender Jen Grubb. A season-ending injury to promising freshman Melissa Tancredi and a preseason injury to sophomore Nancy Mikacenic made the situation in the Irish defense even more fragile.
"All along, Kelly was the key to the puzzle -the cog in the wheel for that defense. It would have been a nightmare without her," says Waldrum, who considers Lindsey to be one of the most underrated players in the nation, with her skill and value being obscured by her position on the field, her injury setbacks and the large shadow cast by Grubb's stellar career.
"Kelly is so much better at 70% than most players are at 100%. She really sees the game well and does a great job organizing the other defenders."
Lindsey's ability to perform at a high level and play through pain has been a hallmark of her Notre Dame career.
"She always wants to be out there playing, but when she'd come home you could see she was completely beat," says Beene, who witnessed plenty of ice bags attached to her roommates' knees over the past few years. "You'd have to force it out of her to find out how bad she was hurting. Most of the time she wouldn't even let on to the roommates how bad it was."
Waldrum compares his senior leader to one of the top players in the history of U.S. women's soccer. "Kelly reminds me a lot of the role that Michelle Akers has played with the national team," he says. "Their personalities are different but they both have that warrior-type approach and the bigger the game, the more she battles."
That toughness is easily traced to Lindsey's childhood, which saw her grow up as the only girl in a neighborhood of mischievous boys.
"Until fifth grade, I was the only girl in the neighborhood and I just hung out with the boys, playing football, building forts, stuff like that" says Lindsey. "My two best friends were boys and I hung out with my older brother a lot. When you're in that type of situation, you have to be tough around them."
Despite a six-member senior class that included five starters, the 1999 Irish soccer team selected Lindsey as one of its three team captains. And over the past two seasons, she has shown that her leadership extends beyond the playing fields.
"Kelly is a natural leader who just attracts people," explains Waldrum. "Off the field, she eases the tension and the players always go to her with their problems. Just the other day, the coaches went over to visit Melissa Tancredi after her surgery ... and Kelly already was there checking in on her. That's the type of person she is."
Lindsey now commonly is known as "Boof"-which stretches back to her freshman season, when she was kidded by the seniors because of her hairdo. And that goofy nickname falls in line with her personality.
"There's just so much that goes into being Boof," explains Beene, who returned this season as a volunteer coach. "She has a such a fun and crazy personality and practices are much more upbeat when she's there. She also is the most caring person I've ever known. The team means so much to her and her door is always open when players need to talk."
Notre Dame earlier this season endured a 15-hour return from Portland that stretched through the night and included a detour through Dallas and bus ride from Chicago. Through it all, the Irish squad remained as upbeat and fun-loving as ever.
"Things like that are a tribute to the captains and how they handle certain situations. The captains set the tone in so many ways," observes Beene.
While her toughness has its roots in her childhood, the origin of Lindsey's crazy side remains a mystery. "Everyone thinks I'm adopted because my parents and my older brother are real quiet," says Lindsey, whose favorite color is orange, simply because it makes her happy. "My little brother takes more after me. I guess I had an affect on him."
Beene and Lindsey first shared a hidden talent with their teammates in the 1998 season, when they performed a choreographed version of the song "Cecilia" during pregame preparations.
"We did it kind of on a whim but the team loved it and we've been doing it ever since," says Lindsey, who now shares the singing spotlight with classmate Kerri Bakker.
Lindsey had pressure from her family to remain close to home and attend Nebraska but she quickly was attracted to Notre Dame.
"I wanted a school with a great education and a great soccer program and I could feel the tradition and pride at this place. I knew it would be a good experience," recalls Lindsey. "The best part about Notre Dame is that it's a school with Midwest values but you get to meet so many great people from all over the country. It helps you be more well-rounded."
Lindsey's future includes being married to her longtime boyfriend Brian Zaversnik, who is set to graduate from the University of Iowa this fall before beginning a job back in Omaha. The couple is set to tie the knot next summer.
"I'm excited for it," says Lindsey, whose postgraduate options include a spot in the new women's professional league or a coaching position. "Brian knows exactly what he's going to do and I'm not so sure yet but it will be an exciting part of my life."
While she already has an engagement ring in her possession, Lindsey remains driven to add a national championship ring to her collection and feels that the 2000 Irish squad has a strong chance to achieve that goal.
"We have a young team but I'm impressed with how well we've done,"
she says. "This team is different from other Notre Dame teams. We are
really athletic and play with a lot of heart. We just need to pull together
the soccer part of the game, stay focused and peak at the right time."