Freshman Kelley Francis is no longer an unknown for Aspen High girls soccer | AspenTimes.com

Freshman Kelley Francis is no longer an unknown for Aspen High girls soccer

Freshman Kelley Francis scored her first career goal in the first game of her Aspen High School career, a 4-1 loss at Grand Junction in the season opener. Simply happy to be on the AHS girls soccer team, the tiny redhead had no idea she would soon be on the verge of breaking the program's single-season scoring record.

"I was a little nervous because I didn't know how she would be able to integrate into all of a sudden playing varsity against these big Front Range teams," AHS senior Maddy Bergdahl said of Francis. "She's done really, really well and she's gotten a spot up there in the front of our team. It's been so much help."

Entering Wednesday's 5 p.m. Class 3A state quarterfinal game at Lutheran, Francis easily leads the team with 28 goals. Sophomore Maeve McGuire is second on the team with 10. Should Francis score once more this season, she would tie the school's single-season record of 29, held by Jennifer Worcester when she played in the early '90s.

According to MaxPreps, Francis is sixth in 3A in goals scored this season. Colorado Springs Christian's Kait Halverson has 34.

"I didn't even know if I was going to make varsity. My first day I was just hoping and trying my hardest to play as much as I could," Francis said. "I never really expected to score this much. I've never scored this much in my life. If I don't beat it this year, I want to beat it next year."

Francis has been consistent, scoring in nearly every game she's played this season. Five times she's scored three or more goals in a game, highlighted by a five-goal performance in a 12-2 win over Grand Valley on April 17. She was the only Skier to score on March 20 in a 4-1 win over Roaring Fork.

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As the season has worn on, however, goals have been more difficult to come by.

"She may get (the record), but you got to realize at this point in the season she is a sacrificial lamb," AHS coach John Gillies said. "She is still going to break through, but she's going to be frustrated for the next week because she is goal hungry and all she loves to do is score goals."

When the season started, nobody knew who Francis was. Now, as the teams head into the third round of the state playoffs, it only takes a quick glance at the MaxPreps statbook to pinpoint a team's top offensive threat. Her 28 goals stand out to the point where teams now to try gang up on her and take her out of the game.

"We can all tell that she gets a little frustrated, because she will try and make her fancy moves around everyone and sometimes it won't work because she'll just have too many people tackling her," Bergdahl said. "But I think she handles it real well. She's gotten way better at passing around them and we can make little, quick 1-2 passes and then she can still make all the goals."

Francis hasn't scored in the team's two playoff games so far, both overtime wins. However, the attention she is receiving is opening the door for her teammates to step in. Sophomore Payton Curley scored the game-winner in the first round against Faith Christian, a 1-0 win, and senior Chelsea Moore scored the game-winner Saturday at The Academy after McGuire scored twice in regulation.

Even Bergdahl, who had never scored before this season, has gotten into the act with five goals of her own this spring.

"It's always annoying when you get marked out of the game, but also you then get to make really great passes and maybe have assists that come from your goals," Francis said. "John has always told me, 'You are going to be marked, but this might give other people opportunities to score.'"

Francis has played soccer since she was in kindergarten and has competed with the Scandia United Soccer Academy, traveling with the club team to Sweden and Denmark for tournaments. So while she had plenty of experience entering the season, her small stature compared to the upperclassmen made doubting her easy.

Now, 28 goals later, nobody is doubting anymore.

"She's got to realize the way she's been playing needs to change. She needs to be able to find space through other channels," Gillies said of Francis adapting to the attention. "She is certainly a talent, but she can get so much better. And she will get so much better. She is just learning a different concept of her game."

acolbert@aspentimes.com