DeKalb senior Kelli Cardine has never been a fan of the spotlight.
The shy midfielder doesn’t yearn for honors like Northern Illinois Big 12 girls soccer MVP and Daily Chronicle Player of the Year, both of which she earned after scoring 10 goals and dishing out 14 assists while leading DeKalb to a Northern Illinois Big 12 East championship this season.
“She’d rather have somebody else do the quote, she’d rather have somebody else take all the press,” DeKalb coach Phil Rouse said. “She just wants to win. She loves the sport and she loves her teammates.”
Kaneland senior goalkeeper Jordan Ginther was also considered for this year’s award.
But when asked to recall her best moment from her high school soccer career, Cardine picked out a time when she made herself the center of attention.
DeKalb and Hampshire were in the fourth overtime of a Class 3A DeKalb Regional semifinal last season, and Cardine and her teammates were growing tired. But fatigue didn’t stop the midfielder from showing the assertiveness that Rouse tried to coax out of the midfielder for her entire career.
Cardine stole the ball from a Hampshire defender in the Barbs’ offensive third, took a few touches and blasted a shot from outside the penalty area that looped over the Hampshire goalkeeper and found the back of the net to win the game in sudden death and put the Barbs in the regional championship.
“I didn’t really think it was going to go in, but then it went in,” Cardine said, “and everybody started tackling me.”
After scoring 18 goals during her junior year, Cardine had less pressure to put the ball in the back of the net this season with the emergence of forwards Morgan Beaty and Kayla Perkins. Those players allowed Cardine to step into more of a playmaking role.
“The dip [in goals] came from teams recognizing how good she was, but also, the players around her stepped up,” Rouse said. “That’s another sign of a great teammate. She wasn’t really worried about her stat line, it was, ‘Did we win? Ok great.’”
Cardine isn’t one of the flashier players in the area, and her effect on a game isn’t always noticeable in real time.
But Cardine was the engine that drove DeKalb to new heights over the last few years.
“I think a lot of people took her for granted because she doesn’t jump out at you on the field, but at the end of the day, you’re like, ‘Wow, she had a goal and two assists,’” Rouse said. “She’s just one of those quiet, unassuming players that you don’t notice until at the end of the game, or when you look at the film, or you look at the stat line, you’re like ‘Whoa, she did all that? Wow.’”