2023 KU soccer roster reflects growing Kansas City connections

photo by: Aiden Droge/Kansas Athletics

Defender Moira Kelley of the Kansas Jayhawks during a game between the Kansas Jayhawks and the Ohio State Buckeyes at Rock Chalk Park in Lawrence on Aug. 18, 2022.

Peruse recent Kansas soccer lineups and you’ll find plenty of towns with familiar names: Leawood, Lenexa, Olathe, Overland Park and Shawnee in the state of Kansas; Grain Valley, Lee’s Summit and of course Kansas City in Missouri.

“I think in my years that I’ve been here, obviously, I’ve seen a lot of changes in the quality of players coming out of Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri,” head coach Mark Francis told the Journal-World, “and I think years ago there was one or two players I think in every class that we would go after, that we felt like were good enough.

“I mean, now, there’s so many more talented players in the area.”

They come from the Blue Springs and Blue Valley school districts, from public and private high schools alike. The significant Kansas City-area representation on this year’s KU squad — 11 of 24 players, or nearly 50% — characterizes a growing trend for the Jayhawks, who as recently as their landmark 2019 season fielded just four players from the region.

“I would say in the last two, three, four years, especially since we’ve had Rock Chalk Park, I think, and the success of ’19 really helped us as well, we’ve attracted some of the better players out of the area,” Francis said. “If there’s players good enough within an hour from here, we’re going to go after them and try and get them, and I think we’ve had pretty good success doing that.”

Last season’s roster had 11 of the Jayhawks’ local players account for a cumulative 8,303 minutes on the year, including standouts like Rylan Childers, now of the Kansas City Current of the National Women’s Soccer League, returning defenders Moira Kelley and Maree Shinkle and Big 12 Conference all-freshman striker Lexi Watts.

photo by: Aiden Droge/Kansas Athletics

Head Coach Mark Francis of the Kansas Jayhawks and forward/midfielder Lexi Watts of the Kansas Jayhawks during a game between the Kansas State University Wildcats and the Kansas Jayhawks at Buser Family Park in Manhattan on October 21, 2022.

That four-digit number accumulated despite the fact that Mackenzie Hammontree (Leawood), Kelley (Overland Park), Hallie Klanke (Lee’s Summit; a North Carolina transfer) and Brie Severns (Lee’s Summit) all suffered season-ending injuries that depleted the Jayhawks’ roster.

photo by: Chance Parker/Journal-World photo

Kansas forward Brie Severns dribbles the ball against Ohio State on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022 at Rock Chalk Park.

Kelley suggested in a recent interview that the high-level youth clubs in the area and the recent growth of the Kansas City Current (founded in 2021 after the NWSL had a four-year absence from the region) have helped contribute to the growth of women’s soccer.

“I really like that the coaches have now kind of broadened their horizons a little bit,” she said, “looking at KC kids, because we have a lot of talent here.”

For her part, Kelley played for the Sporting Blue Valley club team and trained in Lyon as part of the Generation Adidas program. Since arriving at KU, she started 46 straight matches on the back line before her 2022 injury.

One of the new additions to that back line this offseason is freshman Olivia Page, of Shawnee, the Sunflower League defensive player of the year in 2022. Hammontree and Klanke will get their first KU action.

Kelley said that it’s special, as a homegrown player, not only to represent Kansas, but also to be supported by those who helped you to play college soccer in the first place.

“For me, I get my family to come to every game,” she said. “My parents are literally at every game, and having that support system, being close to home, is very heartwarming.”

The season opens with a home exhibition against South Dakota State on Aug. 11.


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