Kelly McGovern

It had been awhile since Kelly McGovern played competitive soccer, but with a semester of school remaining and her time on the hardwood over, the three-year UMSL Tritons point guard decided to give it a try. And for those who have seen her on the pitch this fall, it doesn’t even look like she’s missed a beat.

McGovern was an all-around standout athlete at Lincoln-Way East High School. She was an all-state basketball player, earned all-conference and all-area honors in soccer and even qualified for state in golf. However, it had always been basketball first and that’s where her recruiting process was centered.

She signed to play at NCAA Division I Fordham, but after one season, found her way to UMSL, where after three seasons, she ranks third all-time in career free throw shooting percentage (.805), fifth in assists (324) and eighth in steals (123).

So how did she end up playing soccer?

“Both my mother and my high school coach [Brian Papa] encouraged me to check it out and scope out the soccer scene once I got to UMSL. So they have hinted at it for a couple years and finally during my last semester they pushed hard and encouraged me to take the next step.”

McGovern said UMSL head women’s soccer coach Wendy Dillinger, now in her second season, also “joked” with her a couple times about playing soccer when her basketball days were over and after a trip back home to watch her high school team practice, she decided to give it a shot.

“I went to Coach Wendy and said, ‘OK, I’ll give it a try,’ so Alexis Lawrence [another former women’s basketball player] and I played with the team in the spring and I really enjoyed it. It was something different.”

“Kelly has been an incredible addition to our team,” said Dillinger. “She came in with three years of valuable experience in the highly competitive GLVC, so she already understood what it’s like playing in this conference and how important every game is.”

McGovern admits that playing soccer again has had its learning curves, but her coach and teammates have helped her with the adjustments.

“I did not play on a high caliber travel or select soccer team throughout high school, so there’s a lot of terminology I don’t really know,” she said. “Coach Wendy will use a term or say something I don’t quite understand and I will look around and see what everyone else is doing and then I’ll understand or I’ll just have to have someone explain it to me.”

On the flip side, however, McGovern said a lot of her experiences on the court have been transferable to the field.

“I’m a defensive player and play in the center back with Emily Mosier, so everything is in front of me. I get to see the whole field and get to see everyone out there. That part of it isn’t that much different from the point guard position, where you essentially run the floor.”

Dillinger also feels that McGovern’s playing time on the basketball floor has paid dividends to her playing time on the pitch.

“Her composure under pressure, vision and defensive positioning are at the level we see with experienced veterans,” she said. “That skill set she possessed in basketball has translated nicely to soccer. Kelly has even found her way into our attack when the moments arise in the game.”

McGovern has started all 14 games for the Tritons this season and rarely comes off the field, something that has surprised her.

“It’s been a huge surprise to be able to come in and play a big role on this team, but I think my experience of playing four years of college basketball has really helped me,” she said. “You learn what’s important, different ways to communicate with your teammates and that time goes by so fast and that you should take advantage of every opportunity and work as hard as you can for as long as you can.”

That leadership role McGovern has assumed is not something that goes by unnoticed by her coaches or her teammates either.

“Kelly’s leadership has made as much of an impact as her play on the field,” said Dillinger. “She joined a group of 10 seniors and earned their respect immediately. She is fiercely competitive, but a genuinely good-hearted person with a team-first mentality. She is a huge piece to our success and I’m honored to have her in our program.”

In addition to the daily adjustment of soccer, McGovern is also student teaching, making for a daily jam-packed schedule. From 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays, McGovern is at Walker Elementary in the Hazelwood School District working in a resource room. Then it’s to soccer practice, home to eat dinner and to prep for the following school day.

“It’s been a lot of long days, but it’s worth it,” she said. “Soccer is keeping me in shape and student teaching keeps me focused. I’ve also met so many people through both; it’s been such a great experience.”

McGovern’s not quite sure what is next for her following graduation in December, when she’ll earn her degree in cross categorical special education. For now, she’s just enjoying making the most out of her final semester as a student-athlete and helping the soccer team have a successful season.

“This team has so much potential and it’s exciting to see that. Each week we are getting better and are making the changes we need to make to be successful.”

The UMSL Experience

Mary Ann Mitchell

Mary Ann Mitchell