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Soccer Sports

The last line of defense

Photo: Taylor Soule

For Drake women’s soccer player Kalena Litch, the definition of a “soccer mom” goes beyond a taxi driver, beyond a grass-stain warrior and a beyond a cheerleader in the stands.

Litch, a sophomore goalkeeper for the Bulldogs, started her soccer career under the guidance of her first coach in second grade —  her mom.

With a passion for soccer and a drive to win even as a youngster, Litch knew Division I athletics held a place for her in the goalie box.

“I tend to be very competitive because I have a brother,” Litch said. “He was a Division I athlete so I knew I wanted to be one.”

A four-year letter winner who led her team to a state title at Wayzata High School in Plymouth, Minn., Litch was a promising addition to Drake in 2010.  Recording 91 saves in her first season, Drake head coach Lindsey Horner has seen Litch grow as a goalkeeper.

“Kalena has really improved her hands and her angles since coming to us two years ago,” Horner said. “She has also gotten better at understanding her range on crosses.”

This soccer season marked a new mindset for Litch and the Bulldogs, as the team chose a single word to represent 201l — grit. Litch hopes her personal approach to the goalkeeper position reflects just that, both mentally and physically.

“Grit means to fight and battle, and now that it’s the end (of the season), we’re always fighting, and it proved in our last two games even through they were both losses,” Litch said. “We still battled to the end and didn’t give up. It’s totally mental. When it comes to the game, even if you’re losing, you can’t be mentally down because more mistakes happen then. You have to be mentally and physically involved in the game.”

Horner said that Litch’s talent in the goal has given Drake chances to win games in which the team has been outplayed.

“Kalena is an aggressive goalkeeper that has a presence,” Horner said. “She has made some huge saves for us this season and has been mentally resilient in games.”

Team values are critical for Litch, both as player and as a member of the Drake athletics family. Bulldog athletes come together for a meet-and-greet event every fall, and Litch relies on those early connections for a network of support.

“Early on, getting connections with everyone else is there throughout the year,” Litch said. “You can talk to the other people and figure out their schedules so we can come to each other’s events.”

Drake emphasizes accountability both on and off the field, an aspect of the game Litch holds to a high regard.

“We hold ourselves and everybody accountable for our actions,” she said. “If we know that someone else could do better, we make that known to everyone so everyone can hold her accountable and help her improve along the way.”

With 119 saves already in the books this season, Litch plans to push her potential and keep her eye on the record books as the Bulldogs enter the final game of the season (tonight vs. UNI, 7 p.m., Cownie Soccer Complex).

Horner, likewise, looks forward to Litch’s continuing advancement in the goalie box.

“Kalena has really only started to tap into her potential as an athlete and keeper,” Horner said. “I would expect for Kalena to become quicker and better with her feet through our off-season workouts and a consistent communicator and organizer from the experience she has gained. She is a very good goalkeeper and could graduate as a record-breaking, excellent goalkeeper if she puts in the work over the next two years.”

With the milestone of 100 saves already in her rearview mirror, Litch is only looking forward. She hopes the Bulldogs’ hard work in practice will lead to a spot in the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Championship.

“We’ll try to improve upon scoring goals because we’ve scored so few this season,” Litch said. “Our defense is strong, but we have to keep our level of play up. If we stay at our level, it will be easier to get the important wins than if we go down to their (opponents’) level.”

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