'She'd have a lot of people fooled': Kailee Magsam thriving in first year playing soccer
Sarah Reese could hardly believe her eyes.
The Crookston girls' soccer coach thought she was watching Jensen Crots, a former Minnesota Crookston standout, against Detroit Lakes last Thursday. But in reality, it was sophomore Kailee Magsam.
Crots, though, was a four-year starter from the Golden Eagles from 2009-2012, who started 64 games in her college career on defense.
Magsam's first soccer game ever was just 18 days ago.
As you might expect, those 18 days — and the three weeks that preceded them — have been a bit of a whirlwind for Magsam. Officially, it started on Aug. 4, when the Minnesota State High School League postponed the volleyball season to the spring of 2021 due to COVID-19. Which left Magsam, who plays outside hitter for the Pirates, an athlete without a team.
Even before the MSHSL's decision was made official, two of Magsam's friends and hockey teammates in the winter — Cassie Solheim and Dillynn Wallace — had been trying to convince her to switch to soccer. Magsam's answer, though, was always the same: "volleyball is my sport."
But she remembers telling Solheim: if volleyball's moved back, then we'll talk.
Reese has a "more the merrier" policy. She prides herself on creating a positive, inclusive soccer culture, and as such, she encourages returning Pirates to recruit their friends, athlete or not, every fall. COVID-19 made it an easier sell.
Crookston has several volleyball players on its roster this season. A number have played important roles: Rylee Solheim has started at left back this year, slotting into a tight back line along with Wallace, JoJo Wallace and Aleah Bienek. Hanna Brouse started in goal in the season opener against Walker-Hackensack-Akeley.
Then there's Magsam.
"She has a very driven attitude, she's very competitive, she always practices at 100 percent, she's very inquisitive and in control," Reese said. "Every time she comes off the field, she's asking, 'Should I have done that different? What about this or that?' ... It's really exciting to see her take the skills that we've been teaching her and put them into play and doing that really seamlessly."
Reese attributes much of Magsam's success to her past athletic experience, especially in hockey. She sees the games as quite alike: both have a goal and goalkeeper, both have attacking and defending zones and offsides, and both are about subtlety. Reading angles. Being disciplined.
"Part of the game of soccer is not what you're doing with the ball, it's what you're doing when you don't have the ball," Reese said. "Hockey's the same way. If you don't have the puck, you're trying to sneak in behind, or you're trying to skate and be that support person or the dump person or whatever. A lot of the principles are very similar."
That's something Magsam intuitively understood. She plays goaltender in hockey, giving her a view of the whole ice that translates to her current role.
As far as technical skills, Magsam feels she has room to improve. Passing-wise, she's still trying to develop that innate feel for the ball at her feet; being able to dribble while keeping her head up to see where the ball needs to go. But on an intellectual and competitive level, she's already where she needs to be.
"There's certain things that happen on the field in terms of field awareness that just come when you've played and you've had games and you've been in different situations," Reese said. "Although honestly, she'd have a lot of people fooled. ... She gives you 110 percent of hustle every time."
Reese has been just as impressed with Magsam's versatility. In volleyball, Magsam's role was a bit of a utility role. "I was, like, ready for everything and I could go in when they needed me," she said. That, too, has translated to the soccer field.
She's filled in all over the pitch — central midfield, defensive midfield, and most recently at right outside back in relief of Bienek, who has been injured the past two games. That led to what Reese called an "absolutely stellar" performance against Detroit Lakes.
But the highlight of Magsam's season came well before that. Against Walker-Hackensack-Akeley, Reese subbed her in with 20 minutes to play, holding onto a two-goal lead and looking for the push to put the game away.
"I need you to give it all," she told her then. "I need energy right now."
Just minutes after entering, Magsam barreled down the left wing, received a pass from Kenze Epema and fired it into the net.
When Magsam was asked recently whether she expected to play such a large role from the get-go, let alone score a goal in her first-ever game, her answer was a simple "no." To be in the position she's in right now hasn't fully sunk in for her yet, either.
Ask Reese the same question, though, and while it's unclear if the coach expected this so early, what is apparent is that she always thought it was possible.
"(She has) great angled running, great ability to be shoulder to shoulder, quick to the ball, doesn't get caught," Reese said. "She just makes it look like she's been with us for many years. ... She's got a very versatile style that lends itself to play wherever. She can play 360."
Right now, Magsam says she's "definitely thinking" about staying in soccer next season. That being said, she has plenty of time to decide, and it's not a totally black-and-white issue, either — Reese has had players that played both, although Magsam has her doubts about the time commitment that would entail.
Whatever the case may be, Reese's door will always be open.
"(Magsam) and the other volleyball players certainly are complementing the skill set of our returning players and other new players," she said. "Certainly we've expressed our interest in her returning. We consider ourselves a soccer family, so once you're here, we want you to stay, and there's so much more that we teach beyond the game of soccer."
And just as much as the Pirates have benefited from her contributions, Magsam's gotten the most of an unusual situation.
"Everyone's really welcoming, and we all get along super well," she said. "When I joined, I just, kind of, felt like I belonged in soccer."
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