Commentary

Foothill senior makes impact without scoring

Updated: February 1, 2009, 7:55 PM ET
By Harold Abend | Special to ESPNRISE.com

Olivia "Liv" Klei is a star among stars.

All 21 members on her Pleasanton Rage club team are signing this week with NCAA Division I programs, including nine of her high school teammates at Foothill (Pleasanton, Calif.).

Klei, the Santa Clara-bound midfielder who is ranked No. 9 on the ESPNRISE.com list of Class of 2009 prospects, has helped her high school team to a FAB 50 No. 1 ranking this season.

To be ranked that high individually on a team with so many stars, this young lady must be the team's leading scorer, leader on and off the field, most inspirational player and all the other clichés that come to mind.

Pleasanton Rage coach Philippe Blin had this to say about Klei:

"She is very special, and the only one to make the national team," he said in his distinct French accent,

Klei's talents were on full display during Foothill's home game against California (San Ramon, Calif.) in 35-degree temperatures on Wednesday.

Less than three minutes into the match, Klei came inches away from scoring on a cross, missing just wide right with her off foot -- the right.

Exactly six minutes later, sophomore Alesha Blair stole a pass and again fired a perfect cross from near the left corner directly in front of the goal. This time, Klei took it off her right foot and shot it past the California goalie as fast as the blink of an eye, and Foothill had all the scoring it needed in an eventual 3-0 victory.

Later in the match, Klei nearly scored twice on headers, and on the game's final tally, she made a pass that few girls can make. The midfielder stole the ball, then saw teammate Carlee Payne streaking into the open from the right. Klei floated a pass 35 yards in the air that landed right at the feet of the fast-moving Payne, who secured the ball and took it to the net.

Officially, Klei didn't get an assist on the goal because Payne had to do a couple of things with the ball  such as turn and ram it home.

The pass was still a gem.

"Did you seeee that paaasss?" asked Blin, who watched from the warm press box, sweetly drawing out his E's, A's and S's as the French are known to do.

"No other girl can make that pass," said Blin, who coaches the current under-18 Rage team Klei and all the other girls have played on for nine years.

Klei is dynamic on the field and one of the best high school-level players to come through northern California. She's the obvious team leader whose physical presence commands noticeable respect from opponents right from the start of each contest.

"She's not your finisher, but she's a creator," Foothill coach Ron Lambert said the morning after the California victory.

Klei's offensive output against California was just about her high-water mark for the season. The Falcons midfielder is not really a scorer and has only three goals and two assists in a 14-0 season that includes a 9-0 record in the tough East Bay Athletic League.

But she has a powerful frame and legs that are compact and quick, long strides, the ability to use either foot effectively, a nose for the ball and the kind of physicality that makes it impossible for a single defender to mark her. She's on a team with plenty of scorers, thus does not need to score to make an impact or get noticed.

This season, Foothill has outscored its opponents 54-2 and 35-0 in league play. This past week, the league boasted four other FAB 50 members: San Ramon Valley (Danville, Calif.) at No. 37, Monte Vista (Danville, Calif.) at No. 38, crosstown rival Amador Valley (Pleasanton, Calif.) at No. 39 and Carondelet (Concord, Calif.) at No. 42.

A perfect example of Klei's ability to dominate without scoring or assisting was in the Falcons' 1-0 win against FAB 50 No. 4 Torrey Pines in the Tri-Valley Classic on Dec. 19 in Danville.

"The Torrey Pines game was the most exciting game I've ever seen," said Lambert, who has coached in the area 14 years, some with the Rage, and who has been with Foothill girls' soccer nine years, four as varsity coach.

"And Liv had a huge impact, controlling a good portion of the game," Lambert said. "She was lights-out. It was her best game ever, and I've had her since she was a freshman."

No wonder she was selected to play for the U.S. women's national team at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup this past October in New Zealand.

And it's no surprise the Division I school Klei has chosen to attend is nearby women's soccer power Santa Clara, where Brandi Chastain starred. Five Santa Clara players, including Chastain, were recently drafted by the new Women's Professional Soccer League.

Filled with humility and love for her teammates and friends, Klei wouldn't have it any other way.

"She's very humble and on a mission to hang a championship banner in our gym," Lambert said. "She doesn't care about scoring, just about being the glue that holds the team together."

Said Klei: "We've been together for nine years, so we're almost all like sisters and best friends to each other. We all hang out together."

Two of those best friends are coincidentally the team's top two offensive producers.

One is Brigham Young-bound Payne, who leads the team in scoring this season with 12 goals and five assists.

"Everyone thinks we're twins," Klei said with a chuckle about Payne. "We have the same look, the same height, and we play similarly."

The second is UCLA-bound Sophie Metz. She has four goals and five assists.

In addition to Klei, Payne and Metz, eight Foothill players are expected to play soccer on the college level: Megan Barrett (UC Davis), Krista Bormann (NAIA Southern Oregon), Samantha Cloutier (George Washington), Ashley Loughmiller (Washington State), Amanda Luxford (Arizona State), Ashlyn Mazur (San Francisco), Rachael McGlinchy (San Diego State) and Amanda Simat (San Jose State).

Only about 100 fans braved the cold to attend Wednesday's game, but members of one group that could not be missed sat huddled together by themselves in the stands, cheering loudly.

"Our biggest fans are our guy friends from the football and lacrosse team who come to almost every game," Klei said with a giggle.

"They're a great group of guys, and it helps us to hear them cheering us on," she continued. "We don't play as well when they're not there."

It's hard to believe the girls not playing very well given their record, but that was the case in the first half against California.

Foothill outshot the visiting Grizzlies 15-2, but Klei's goal was all it had to show for it against the packed-in defense of California.

"The California game was a perfect example of Liv's leadership," Lambert said. "We discussed not playing sharp at halftime, and she talked to the girls about picking it up. You saw the result."

The result was that Payne scored off an assist from Ashley Amos and then again of the pass from Klei, but it was Klei's physicality, touches and marking that wore down the physical Grizzlies and closed out what ended up as another shutout victory.

"One of our goals, along with going undefeated in EBAL and NCS [North Coast Section], is to have a shutout league and not give up any goals," Klei said.

Because Klei has missed a lot of school and time with friends and family to be able attend camps and play on the U.S. national team, she falls back on the support of her parents and siblings for strength.

Her father, Steve, the CFO of Xactly Corporation in San Jose, played basketball and baseball in high school in Michigan, and he has helped Klei develop an interest in business.

"My dad is a big businessman, and he's helped me get comfortable with talking to big groups of people," said Klei, who carries a 3.5 grade point average and says she plans to major in business at Santa Clara with an eye on a possible career as an investment banker.

"Hopefully, the economy will improve," she said wistfully.

Her mother, Katie, manages the household.

In high school, she played basketball, but now she competes in Ironman-type running and swimming competition.

Klei enjoys shopping and traveling.

Although she says her older sister, Marissa, a student a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, is her exact opposite when it comes to sports, they are still extremely close.

"She's not the athletic type, but we're still best friends," Klei said. "And she's a big shopper, too."

Klei also has two younger brothers who are both athletes.

Matt, 14, is into soccer and baseball, while Jeffrey, 11, plays basketball, baseball and soccer.

The highlight for Klei was her trip to New Zealand with the U-17 national team that went 3-1-2 and lost the title game 2-1 in overtime to North Korea.

She didn't score in the six games but did have three assists and, according to sources, impressed coaches with her teamwork and work ethic.

"All the hard work and the camps, and all the time away from family, friends and my team, was well worth it and paid off," Klei said.

"It always feels nice to get recognition, but I wouldn't be anywhere without my team."

The words of Blin and his sweet French accent keep ringing.

"The whole group is special, but Liv, she's the one," said Blin, a pro in Paris before coming across the pond and settling in northern California.

"No big head, very humble and a complete player."

Will Klei follow in the footsteps of Broncos alumna Chastain, a defender who was content to do other things besides score goals but still dominated?

Stay tuned. Before then, however, there's a banner to hang in the Foothill gymnasium.

"Being No. 1 in the nation is great, but we take nothing for granted," Klei said as the interview ended. "We have to work hard every game."

Harold Abend is a regular contributor to CalHighSports.com.