On April 22, the Hillsboro High School girls soccer team played in their first home game since May 8, 2019, just 16 days short of two full years.
It was a day that many Hillsboro players had been waiting for, none more so than senior Kelsey Holtgrave, who had her junior year erased due to COVID-19.
It wasn’t long until Holtgrave found the ball at her feet as she knocked in a ball that deflected off her teammate, Abbigail Schreiber. The senior starter would score again moments later, beating the keeper to a loose ball inside the Beardstown box for her second goal of the day.
The brace set the tone for the day for the Toppers, who won 9-0, and showed the benefit of being in the right place at the right time, as Holtgrave was for both of her scores.
Being in that position, though, isn’t by chance according to her coach, Dave Mattson.
“You don’t usually find yourself in the right place at the right time. You have to put in the work to get there and she does that,” Mattson said of Holtgrave.
Now the work that Holtgrave has put in has helped score another goal, a much bigger one - the opportunity to play college soccer.
On Tuesday, April 27, just hours before she scored two goals in Hillsboro’s dramatic 4-3 win over Staunton, Holtgrave announced her decision to continue her education and athletic pursuits for Monmouth College.
“When I was first looking into colleges, my first choice was Monmouth,” Holtgrave said at the signing. “With the mixture of the small class sizes, the amazing atmosphere that’s all around the campus and the opportunity to play soccer, it was just a perfect fit.”
And Holtgrave will be a good fit for the Fighting Scots too, who are under new guidance with first-year head coach Lucas Henderson. The Scots haven’t played in two years due to COVID-19, but were 14-5-2 in 2019.
The team will have 11 seniors next season, meaning that opportunities for playing time will be abundant, especially for players who work for it.
“Kelsey’s one of the hardest working players I’ve had. In the offseason, she’s out there at the complex a lot, whether it’s with somebody or by herself,” Mattson said. “I can’t imagine her not doing the same sort of thing at college.”
From a JV contributor as a freshman to a potent reserve as a sophomore to a team leader as a senior, Holtgrave has shown the growth that most players strive for and that coaches love.
“Over the four years, I think Kelsey is one of the most improved players, start to end. I saw her play in eighth grade and she was a little wild and a little random. Quickly she decided that she was going to play soccer and she was going to like it, and she did,” Mattson said. “Every year she just got better and better. Even after the year off, I think some people stagnated, but she did not because she put in the time outside of the program.”
Holtgrave credits Mattson for instilling that desire to improve in her, and for making the sport more enjoyable.
“Definitely, my coach Dave,” Holtgrave said on who has helped her most to get where she is now. “He’s given me the fundamentals and drive to keep going. He’s made soccer fun and worth playing.”
And that’s music to Mattson’s ears.
“It’s exciting to see girls that love soccer and that’s clearly the case with Kelsey. It’s neat for me, because that means that they’ve enjoyed soccer in high school,” Mattson said. “It’s also exciting for the other players on the team. It shows them there’s a future if they want it. Anytime my players can be thinking about soccer more than just when they’re around me, that’s a good thing.”
Holtgrave, who also played volleyball, cross country and basketball for Hillsboro, will definitely be thinking about soccer a lot during her time at Monmouth and not just on the pitch. To blend her passion for athletics and technology, Holtgrave is planning to double major in computer science and exercise science.
“There’s computer science in everything. I love it,” Holtgrave said.
Until then, she’ll focus on this season and playing a few final games with her team, which she calls a family. So far, that family is off to a good start, and with some hard work, 2021 could be an even more special season for Holtgrave than it already has been.