Kayla Deaver (SR/Lee’s Summit, Mo.) is a marked lady these days. Literally.
Her 25 goals ties her for second in the NAIA entering Kansas Wesleyan’s soccer match Saturday against Oklahoma Wesleyan. Not surprisingly, opposing defenses have given the Coyotes’ standout forward preferential treatment of late.
It’s equal parts flattering and frustrating but Deaver’s unfazed.
“All I can do is just play,” she said. “I treat every game the same. I don’t try to overthink it, I don’t think about the outcome or what could happen. I just go out there and play soccer.”
Southwestern focused on Deaver in their match Saturday at JRI Stadium and Graves Family Sports Complex and the strategy worked for 89 minutes and 54 seconds. Deaver, though, scored from the left corner of the 6-yard box with six seconds left and the Coyotes escaped with 1-1 draw – keeping their unbeaten streak going, and extending to 11 matches after Wednesday’s tilt at McPherson.
Deaver has been the equivalent of Steph Curry on the pitch this season. The goal against Southwestern was her 21st in KWU’s last 10 matches – the blitz featuring a school-record six against arch rival Bethany on October 12.
She was named the Kansas Conference and NAIA Offensive Player of the Week of October 10-16.
Deaver, though, redirects credit to her teammates.
“I feel like all my accomplishments couldn’t be done without my team,” she said. “I don’t do everything on my own so even though I look really good this year it’s because of my teammates. They’re making me look good, it’s not the one person show.”
KWU coach Henrik Sohn is pleased and impressed.
“I’ve been telling Kayla since she got here that she’s the best player in the conference and I truly 100 percent believe it,” he said. “The sky’s the limit for whatever she wants to do with soccer.”
Sohn said Deaver combines superb physical talent with a keen understanding of the game.
“Her ability to strike a ball, her physical aspect and the way she moves, the way she can cut makes her an outstanding soccer player,” he said. “But I think her understanding of the game is what separates her from good players.
“There are many people who are physically gifted but you’ve got have to soccer IQ in order to be an elite player and Kayla is an elite player at this level.”
Deaver agrees being able to think the game through is essential.
“I feel like the level we’re playing at right now if you’re not that soccer smart – you don’t know where to move on the field, you don’t know where to be – the game is going to be really hard for you,” she said.
Deaver’s skills have evolved since she started playing at a tender young age.
“I’ve been playing soccer since I was 2 years old. Never took a year off,” she said. “(My parents) told me as soon as I started walking, I was wanting to kick a ball so that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.”
The Coyotes had won nine in a row before tying Southwestern, that after starting the season with five losses.
“We got tired of losing, honestly,” Deaver said. “I just think one day we were ‘like oh my gosh something has to start changing.’ We weren’t starting out the way that we wanted to. I think once we started to focus more in practice, once we gave 110 percent, once we started playing for the girls everything started coming together.”
Deaver said it started at practice.
“Coach always tells us you practice how you play,” she said. “If you show up to practice and you’re just going through the motions then you’re going to also go through the motions in the game. If you really want to win you have to go hard at practice.”
Deaver played at Lee’s Summit High School (Mo.) and transferred to KWU in the spring semester of 2020 from Kansas City Kansas Community College. Her college career started at Central Methodist University.
“Kayla has come a long way,” Sohn said. “Big smile, really funny, great sense of humor, great to be around. We had to straighten some things out in the classroom but she matured as a person and she matured on the field and I think it shows. She’s done the work.”
“When came here I was mess, honestly, but Henrik got me in line,” Deaver said. “I did extra sessions with him; I feel like I took the steps that I needed to get better.
“Henrik always gives me confidence. As long as you’re following what coach says I feel the rest will come to you.”