By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (March 29, 2017) — Kalee Wright had to persevere the worst of times to make it to the best of times.
Within days of signing a national letter of intent to continue her soccer career at NCAA Division II power Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Wright suffered from a heart condition that threatened her future on the pitch.
That was the worst of times for Wright, who is now enjoying the best of times – her final high school playoff run before making the move two hours to the north to begin a new journey at the collegiate level.
Stephenville continues its playoff trek on Friday when the Honeybees travel to Midland to challenge San Elizario in a Region I-4A area match kicking off at 2 p.m. at Grande Communications Stadium.
Wright and her defensive teammates, including fellow MSU signee Savannah Alford at sweeper, will no doubt play a key role in trying to limit a San Elizario front that has produced 165 goals this season.
But for Wright, it was a challenge she was almost unable to accept.
Following a mid-week match just days before the Knights of Columbus Challenge of Champions, Wright did not feel right. Her heartbeat was racing and refused to slow down.
“Whenever the heart situation happened the doctor said I needed surgery and I didn’t know how long I would be out,” Wright recalled in an interview following practice at Lem Brock Field Tuesday. “I was out a couple of weeks total, just one week after the surgery, and the hardest part was getting back into shape and earning back my spot. That’s tough when you’re a senior.”
Wright says she had an excessive pathway and her heart was stuck there, beating excessively. The surgery corrected the problem, and Wright has since slowly earned back her typical minutes on the pitch.
“It was eye-opening. I learned you can’t take life for granted, especially when it’s something dealing with the heart,” Wright said. “I know I’m not taking anything for granted now.”
Including this final high school playoff run with her teammates and best friends.
“We’ve really come together as a team. There aren’t many of us seniors, it’s mostly young girls, but we’ve come together throughout the season and now I think we have the strongest bond we’ve had throughout my years here,” Wright said. “Even just the trip, I’m looking forward to it. It’s a four-hour road trip with my best friends, and when we get there we will be focused on doing our jobs and having fun doing it.”
Wright has heard of the daunting San Elizario stats, but says she will withhold judgement until they face Stephenville’s daunting defense led by the likes of Wright, Alford and athletic freshman keeper Madison Wyly.
“Obviously they haven’t gone against our defense. We’re pretty stacked in the back,” said Wright. “I’m sure they have a few girls who will match up well, but they aren’t intimidating to me.”
Wright said the key for the Honeybees is to “stay calm and keep up the positivity. Just believe in and enjoy the process.”
That’s the message from seniors like Wright and Alford when trying to get their younger teammates settled down and ready at match time.
“It’s hard to get them focused sometimes because they are young and excited,” she said. “But I know they’ll be ready to go out there and do what they know to do and score goals.
I know how the young girls feel. My first year I was so nervous I almost threw up,” she added. “So we’re just telling them not to be nervous and to play their game.”
Wright won’t be throwing up Friday.
But she will be waiting alongside best friend Alford any time San Elizario tries to break through and put pressure on Wyly in goal.
And she’ll be waiting with a repaired heart that beats Honeybee blue.
“It’s just exciting to be back out here doing what I love and doing it with my friends,” Wright said. “I know if we play our game, we can keep doing it.”
Which would result in a sectional playoff against Brownwood or Borger. If it’s Brownwood, a coin flip has already determined the match will be at Stephenville, marking the second straight year the Bees have hosted their arch-rival in the post season.
“That would be awesome, it definitely adds some fuel to our fire to know that,” said Wright. “To get one more game back here on this field with our friends and with these girls. It would mean the world to me.”