'Warrior day in, day out'
Lone senior from recruiting class, Kelsey Mullen, leading as captain
As the lone senior and team captain on this year’s women’s soccer team, Kelsey Mullen has stepped into the leadership role.
Then there was one.
Kelsey Mullen entered MSU four years ago along with three others as members of the women’s soccer class of 2014.
The class was loaded with top players in the state and country, including Annie Steinlage and Courtney Clem, as well as Chelsey Miller, who decided to focus on academics and quit the team after two years.
The class entered with considerable expectations with Mullen, Clem and Steinlage all being multiple All-State selections in high school.
But with the transfer of one, redshirt of a second and the departure of another, only Mullen remains as this year’s lone senior on a squad with only six upperclassmen — the fewest since 1988 — forcing Mullen into a leadership role for the team.
Senior midfielder/defender Kelsey Mullen, 15, walks out onto the field with her teammates after the end of halftime during the game against Bowling Green on Sept. 13, 2013 at DeMartin Stadium at Old College Field. The Spartans defeated the Falcons, 3-1. Georgina De Moya/The State News
Growing up just a few miles in nearby Okemos, Mich., Mullen was raised a Spartan fan and in the end, knew it was the right move to spend the next four years calling MSU home.
“I knew it was really important for me to know that my parents could come to most of the games,” she said. “Being so far away from home was out of the options.”
Head coach Tom Saxton said Mullen has been essential to the team her entire four years. She’s been a consistent Spartan warrior and has played through aches and pains that have popped up along the way, he said.
That consistency has shown as well.
By the end of her career, Mullen could rank among the top 10 in school history in career starts.
She has started every game she has played but one since she first donned a Spartan uniform.
By the end of the season, barring injury, Mullen could rank tied for seventh in history with 75 games started, if she starts the remaining 11 regular season games.
Mullen also was a starting defender on the 2011 team that allowed the fewest goals in school history, while featuring the school’s only three-time All-American, Laura Heyboer. That year, the Spartans placed third in the Big Ten, which Mullen said ranks as a top moment in her career.
“I’d really hate to look that far down the road now, but she’s been a great Spartan,” Saxton said of Mullen. “She’s a positive influence, always a quiet sense of humor, but always a great positive attitude and just a gamer, a warrior day in, day out.”
Stepping up as a leader
After the departure of seven seniors from last year’s team, it was up to Mullen to fill in as the leader when she was named team captain.
“Knowing I’m the only senior definitely put pressure on me to feel like I have to be a leader,” Mullen said. “But I have the team to back me up, so it’s been pretty simple and easy.”
Clem said Mullen brings a great attitude to the soccer pitch, and it will be tough to replace her.
“She’s a good leader, she brings a lot of fun to our team, too,” Clem said. “I’m going to miss her, she’s one of my best friends here.”
Losing a potential All-American
After last season, the Spartans received a blow when Steinlage decided to transfer to Virginia.
Steinlage was the cream of the crop coming out of high school. A first-team All-State selection her final three years, Steinlage also was Miss Soccer in 2009-10, as well as a two-time Michigan Gatorade Player of the Year.
While at MSU, Steinlage was a two-time All-Big Ten performer, as well as a fourth team All-American by Women’s Soccer Madness.
Although losing such a prominent player who could have been a key member of this year’s team was tough, Mullen said a small silver lining came out of the situation.
“It was definitely something we had to face, but we took the positives out of it,” She said. “We just realized that she was no longer a part of the team, so we needed people to step into her place and they have done that very well.”
From carpools to MSU
It’s been nearly 10 years since Clem and Mullen were sharing carpools as teammates on their club team, and they’ve continued their strong friendship at MSU as members of the same class.
“She would always make up these stupid games,” Clem said, describing how they passed the time during their road trips. “We would always have a blast.”
Once Mullen and Clem got to high school, they were on the opposite sides of the field. With Clem at Williamston High School and Mullen at Okemos, they ended up playing against each other quite a few times.
“At first, we played against each other, and then we came together (at MSU),” Mullen said. “It’s nice to come into here with someone I knew and was comfortable with.”
Although they entered college in the same class, Clem took a redshirt season with former standout Jill Flietstra still with two years of eligibility.
A winner’s mentality
For associate head coach Tammy Farnum, Mullen’s mentality has been crucial, and her versatility is something people might misunderstand about her.
She also added Mullen has been a special player since arriving on campus and it was only right to name her captain.
“Her words are always heard and at the end of the day, when not a word can be spoken, she shows up and plays the game at the highest level. That’s all you can ask,” Farnum said.
“The thing we love is that she still has that go mentality as an attacking right back.”