NETHER PROVIDENCE >> Lizzie King absorbed the contact and figured, eh, whatever.
The Strath Haven striker felt a twinge of pain when she got kicked in the foot against Penncrest Oct. 6 and assumed it would pass. She’d just scored a goal, the only marker in a 1-0 game that separated the Panthers from a crowded Central League pack, and she’d seen so many of her teammates playing through minor annoying injuries that she assumed she could do the same.
When that Tuesday game ran into a Thursday tilt with Haverford without relief for the pain, King had the feeling that she’d made a mistake in playing on. So the only recourse? Keep playing.
“The only struggle was pain,” King said of a diagnosis of a broken bone. “That’s the only thing that held me back. It wasn’t like I didn’t want to play. I wouldn’t consider it a struggle. It’s just that my foot hurt and it wasn’t going to stop me from playing.”
King is too soft-spoken to shine a bright light on her accomplishments. And she’s too humble to describe the final eight games she slogged through for what they were: The efforts of an out-and-out gamer.
She didn’t just show up for work each day; even with the injury, she flourished. Against Haverford, coach Gino Miraglia cautiously meted out King’s minutes. But when overtime descended on a scoreless affair, King rose to the occasion. Or as she chooses to describe it, “I was the lucky one that got a through ball and was able to finish.”
That luck seemed to follow King. The last four of her 14 goals were game-winners, helping Strath Haven reclaim the Central League crown. She scored the game-winner in overtime against Garnet Valley to clinch the title and exact revenge for last season’s reversal of fortune. In the first game of the District One Class AAA Tournament, she scored against Haverford, then provided the assist on Mae Walsh’s overtime game-winner.
King’s instinctual sense of the moment is part of the reason why she is the 2015 Daily Times Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
Joining King on the first team is teammate Katie Fisher, the Episcopal Academy trio of Julia Hondros, Jess Shanahan and Molly O’Brien, Radnor’s Abby Lord and Maura Holst, Agnes Irwin’s Claire Micheletti, Notre Dame’s Phoebe McClernon, Haverford’s Hannah Dodds, Garnet Valley’s Britney Dragoni and Marple Newtown’s Megan Lynch.
McClernon makes her third straight appearance on the All-Delco team, while Micheletti, Dragoni, King and Fisher are two-time selections. Eight of the 12 nods go to seniors, with Dragoni, Holst, O’Brien and King representing a very strong junior class.
The All-Delco team is selected in consultation with area coaches.
Getting to the root of King’s value to the Panthers isn’t easy for the junior, who gives off the distinct sense of not yet fully grasping how talented she is.
She’s been playing the game since second grade, something that started as a social activity and persisted thanks to a size and physicality that made her perfectly suited for central defense. Around seventh grade, she made the switch to the forward line when, “we figured out I was fast,” King said. (Befitting her humility, that bit of history was news to Miraglia.) She’s reticent to discuss her accolades, like being named Central League MVP by coaches or her selection to an Olympic Development Program regional squad for a trip to Spain next spring as an exclusive group of 18 players from 13 states.
In high school, progress came slowly, and King’s appreciation for her abilities still lags behind it. She played sparingly for varsity as a freshman, due in part to a concussion that brought her season to a premature end. Even that brief glimpse was an eye-opener for King, realizing what was required to devote herself to soccer full-time.
The payoff in her sophomore season was a stunning total of 24 goals. But that brought repercussions for her junior campaign: How to replicate that success without the element of surprise on her side.
“It definitely took a lot to get used to knowing that I had pressure that I didn’t have two years ago or even last year,” King said. “I knew that it was important for me to finish goals for my team. I guess I did have more confidence toward the end of the season when I was able to finish some big goals and I could do that for my team.”
King’s approach to attacking as a center forward bears the hallmarks of a central defender’s view turned on its head, even if she doesn’t take credit for that sophisticated change in perspective. She plays with a feel for the spaces and passing lanes from midfield — which she credits for all of her success — and discusses it with a refreshing tactical nuance. The adjustment to the extra attention devoted to her was occasionally uncomfortable this season. But once she recognized the power to drag defenders out of spaces and disrupt opponents’ defensive postures, King embraced a new dimension to her game.
In enumerating the highlights of the year, King unsurprisingly gravitates toward the collective. If her prolific scoring was the product of her teammates, then the goals she pumped home were only meaningful in as much as they helped the team, especially in the quest to regain the Central League title.
“We didn’t get it last year, and it was really hard,” King said. “We lost at home. Last year was just so hard. And all the seniors have been so devoted and awesome leaders this year, so they really deserved to get a championship. Not only to the whole team, but to the seniors especially, and it meant a ton to them.
“We played through injuries. We filled new roles, we tried new things and we came out on top for our league.”
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