Truckee soccer grads make grade as college freshmen
Truckee High soccer is alive and well in Colorado and Massachusetts.
Jessie Kautz and Whitney Hardy, 2006 Truckee graduates and key members of the Wolverines’ girls soccer team, have earned starting roles on their respective college teams.
And that’s not common for any true freshman, their coach’s agreed.
“No, it’s not common at all,” said Geoff Bennett, Kautz’s head coach at Colorado College, which plays Division I soccer in Conference USA. “It’s a result of a lot of hard work.”
Martha Whiting, Hardy’s head coach at Tufts University near Boston ” a competitive Division III school in the New England Small College Athletic Conference ” said the same is true with her program.
“Typically, freshmen don’t start at the beginning of the year,” Whiting said. “But when (Hardy) played, she really proved herself.”
A two-time all-state defender and midfielder for the Wolverines, Kautz received a scholarship to play at Colorado College after being scouted on her San Juan Spirits ’88 club soccer team of Sacramento.
Once she arrived in Colorado Springs in August, Kautz wasted no time making a good impression.
“Jessie is very fast, and quick, and has a lot of tenacity as a defender,” Bennett said of what his freshman confirmed from her scouting report. “She can cover space quickly. And, she may be small, but she’s strong.”
In addition to her speed and skills, Kautz’s daily hustle and intelligence on the field also played into Bennett and staff’s decision to test her in the starting lineup. And she hasn’t relinquished her spot.
“She’s getting better all the time. She’s very coachable,” Bennett said. “She absorbs information and applies it quickly.”
As far as becoming the Tigers’ left outside defender ” the speedy Kautz often has played midfield during her young career ” Bennett said the fact that the team lost several defenders to graduation made the option of where she’d play easy.
“We knew she could play midfield or back, so it really was dictated by what our needs were. It just came natural to plug her in there (at left outside defender),” he said.
That’s fine by Kautz.
“I love defense,” she said. “That’s my love.”
Regardless of her position, Kautz is elated just to be in the starting lineup competing against top-notch college players.
“I love it. It’s been the most gratifying experience I’ve ever had,” Kautz said. “It’s crazy. I can’t believe the playing time I’m getting. I can’t even believe I’m here. (Starting) is unbelievably rewarding. It’s the last thing I expected …
“I didn’t even know if I’d get any playing time,” she continued. “I just came in to work super hard to try to get some playing time. I’m so thankful.”
Kautz added that the coaching staff and players have also made her experience enjoyable.
“The team and the coaches are incredible,” she said. “Everyone is so supportive of each other, and the coaches, I don’t think there could be a better combination.”
Bennett sees his freshman making more of an impact as she grows within the system.
“She’s already improved tremendously,” he said, “and I think she’s gonna keep getting better and better by leaps and bounds.”
Hardy took more of an indirect rout onto her college team’s starting roster.
A first-team all-state center midfielder and one of the Wolverines’ team captains last season, Hardy toured the East Coast on a couple occasions in search of a quality university to attend. She also wanted to play soccer, and knew she would have to walk on to a team.
So she talked to Tufts women’s soccer coach Martha Whiting and was told that she would make the team if she came in shape.
Hardy fulfilled her end of the bargain, arriving in late August fit and prepared to compete.
“I hadn’t seen her play, so I was definitely pleasantly surprised,” Whiting said about her first impression of the walk-on freshman. “She definitely exceeded my expectations.”
Six games into the Jumbos’ season, with Hardy continuing to prove her capabilities, Whiting threw her into the starting mix ” at midfield on the right wing ” on Sept. 30.
“She had been coming off the bench a lot, and the coaching staff decided she deserved to start,” Whiting said. “The team is better with her out there, so we decided to give her a shot.”
About the playing time Hardy earned in the first place? That came on sheer hard work, her coach said.
“She has great work ethic. She works as hard as anybody, and she makes others work harder,” Whiting said. “It’s contagious.”
That’s not all.
“As a coaching staff we look for the intangibles,” Whiting said. “She’s very composed for a freshman, she’s a smart soccer player and she makes good decisions. That has helped her get to where she’s at.”
That, and the fact that she can flat out play.
“She has a really good touch on the ball and rarely loses possession. She attacks with confidence and she has a great attitude. She’s a tough kid,” the coach said.
Oh, and Hardy also received a nickname.
“Now we call her ‘Truckee.’ It’s a cool name,” Whiting said. “It kind of fit her, and it’s easy to remember.”
Hardy said she is having a blast playing in the competitive New England Small College Athletic Conference.
“It’s going really well,” she said. “I’m playing a lot, so it’s a lot of fun. … It’s really competitive. Every game is a really hard game, but it’s real fun.”
Part of the fun is being on a team with a close-knit group of players, Hardy said.
“The girls are really great. When I first got here they made huge efforts to incorporate the freshmen,” she said. “There’s a lot of team chemistry. We do everything as a team.”
Whiting made it clear that Hardy will have to keep up what she’s been doing to remain a starter.
“I don’t like players to become complacent,” Whiting said. “They have to compete for the starting job every day. But Whitney is a hard worker. I’m not worried about her losing that starting spot. We’re real excited about her.”
Colorado College: 8-2-1, 1-1
Tufts University: 3-2-2, 1-1-2