September 18, 2009 7:45:00 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Kat Walsh is used to succeeding in soccer.
Her ability as a scorer helped her earn Alabama Gatorade Player of the Year honors in 2004 and 2005 at Spain Park High School in Hoover, Ala.
As a result, Walsh was a sought-after recruit who decided to take her skills to LSU.
That''s when Walsh discovered the first choice might not always be the best choice.
More than three years later, Walsh has regained her confidence and her scoring touch and is playing a key role in the best start in the Mississippi State soccer team''s history.
"We have an unbelievable team with so much talent and so much potential," Walsh said. "I think we can continue to go even farther."
Walsh will help lead MSU (6-0) into action this weekend when it takes on North Florida at 6:30 tonight and Florida Gulf Coast at 10 a.m. Sunday at the North Florida tournament in Jacksonville, Fla.
Walsh, who scored two goals Sunday in a victory against East Tennessee State, leads the team with four goals and eight points. She has played in five matches (four starts) and has emerged as a speedy scoring threat after she transferred from LSU and had to sit out the 2008 season.
"She has been playing with a lot of confidence," MSU coach Neil Macdonald said. "She is quick to face up on people and run at the back lines, which is a great dimension to add to our attack. She has the ability to go one vs. one and go with her right foot or her left foot. She has been playing really well."
Walsh said it is a joy to be in a position to see playing time and to get a chance to contribute. She said her confidence waned after two seasons of little playing time at LSU.
She played in all 20 games (mainly as a reserve) in 2006 and had a pair of assists.
In 2007, she played in 11 matches and took only three shots.
Walsh said she spent most of her time on game days on the bench watching the action. She found it difficult for her to tell herself she was a quality player because the players she was competing against were so talented.
Walsh felt coach Brian Lee believed in her but that it was difficult for her to see herself as the same player who dominated at the high school level.
"There were times I wondered if this is what I wanted," Walsh said. "The girls were unbelievable, and I didn''t get the chances I thought I should have gotten. It was very, very hard to deal with it and to be in a situation where you don''t feel like you have an opportunity to show what you have and you know you can do great things."
Walsh said she was fortunate she had teammates at LSU in similar positions. She said they helped each other persevere until she realized she needed a change.
Close to the breaking point, Walsh decided to transfer to MSU.
Sitting out another year was equally difficult, but Walsh said she asked her sister, Shannon, for advice.
Shannon Walsh, who transferred from South Alabama to MSU, told Kat she could make an impact at MSU and she would enjoy the fresh start.
Walsh is making her sister proud.
"I am determined to make an impact here," Walsh said. "I work really hard to get things done because I have a lot of passion for it. When I am out there I am going to give 110 percent to do well for my team and to help us succeed as much as I can."
Walsh said her ability to take players on, to break defenses down, and to find open teammates are her strengths. She said her speed, her dribbling, and her shooting all have helped her make an impact.
"We have just encouraged her to take responsibility for the ball and to be strong and brave because you have to be brave to be a good striker," said Macdonald, who recruited Walsh out of high school. "She has taken that on herself and run with it. We really give her just little pointers and tell her to go out and play. A lot of players do well out there in a free role, and she is one of them."
Walsh said she has come a long way from the player she was at LSU. All it took was an attitude change for Walsh to see she still is the player who was an offensive force in high school.
"Before I went to college I just knew I was the best," Walsh said. "Even if I wasn''t I told myself I was and I did great things and got a lot of rewards from it. I had that confidence that no one could stop me. That is just how I did things. I told myself I was the fastest, fittest, and strongest and that I can beat you all day. I just knew it.
"Just before I came (to MSU) I just knew I was just as good (as the other players) and that if I would tell myself I was just as good I was going to be like that. I told myself that every day to convince myself I am the best."
Macdonald credits Walsh for remaining focused and for working hard in her redshirt year last season. He said she trained with the team, built friendships, and developed bonds with the coaches. He said all of those things have helped Walsh feel more comfortable, and the result has been reflected in her play.
"I think she is the type of player who needed to be given a little personal responsibility and just let her play because that is what she is good at doing," Macdonald said. "I am just really happy for her. She is a super nice person. Her whole family is. She comes from a great family, and I am happy to see her happy and playing at her best."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.