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Girls soccer star joins ’Hounds for kicks — and is excelling, to boot

Written: Sep 28, 2012
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By Joe Sager

New Castle News

Most high school football teams scramble when it comes to finding a reliable kicker.

Wilmington High has had at least two for the past four years in seniors Brandon Ryder and Slavi Pontius.

And, the Greyhounds added another one this year in Kyler Lum, the first girl to suit up for Wilmington’s program.

“Slavi Pontius and Brandon Ryder have been with me for four years. They work real hard,” Wilmington coach Terry Verrelli said. “They’ve really been special to us, in terms of special teams — kicking off, extra points, field goals and punting. They both do a great job.”

Lum, a junior soccer standout, has continued to improve in her first year with the program.

“She’s done a great job, too,” Verrelli said. “People don’t realize until you don’t have a kicker how important it really is to have one.”

GETTING NOTICED

Ryder and Pontius have kicked for Wilmington since their freshman years. They both kicked an extra point that season and then shared primary kicking duties with Harrison Sturm the past two years.

Knowing their graduation will create a void next season, Verrelli kept his eyes open for potential replacements. He spotted Lum booting field goals at Wilmington’s stadium one day, as the girls soccer team often does before or after practice for a change of pace.

“I saw her last year. We were in the playoffs and practicing and so was the girls soccer team. We came out and she was kicking and she did a great job,” he said. “I told her I’d like her to come out.”

Lum wasn’t sure what to think of the offer, but gave it a try this year.

“I was a little hesitant at first. I wasn’t sure how it’d be or how the guys would accept me,” she said. “I love it. Everybody treats me with a lot of respect. My soccer coaches are really supportive about me doing that.”

ON THE TEAM

Lum has served as Wilmington’s junior varsity team’s primary kicker for extra points. She got her first varsity experience last week when she kicked a PAT in the ’Hounds’ 32-7 win at Titusville.

“I was scared,” Lum said with a laugh. “Confidence is the big thing. When I first went out there, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. And, you probably won’t if you think like that. I like kicking for our JV team. Our team is really good. We get a lot of touchdowns, so I get to go out there and kick it a lot.”

Timing is another key element to kicking. Lum found that out right away.

“I adjusted to the technique, but the timing was the biggest part,” she said. “The first practice, the line was coming at me and they blocked it. I took too much time. Slavi and Ryder help me a lot. You just have to trust the ball is going to get there by the time you’re about to kick it.”

Lum will only kick extra points and field goals and won’t kick off or punt. Already a two-time District 10, Region 1 MVP, she doesn’t want to risk a football injury impeding her promising soccer career. She’s helped the Lady Greyhounds to two-straight D-10 championships. However, there might be a time when she encounters some physical contact on the football field.

“I’ll just run the other way,” she said with a laugh. “I think about that a lot. I hope I never have to be in that situation. If it happens, it happens. There’s nothing I can do about it. I’ll just suck it up, I guess. All the guys tell me they have my back, so I am not worried.”

Lum tries to squeeze in some practice time with the football team around her busy soccer practice and game schedules. She’ll spend extra time kicking on her own, too.

“Soccer and football are at the same time after school. I try to make it to football when I can,” she said. “Other times, I’ll have my own tee set up and I will practice kicking.”

Has all the extra kicking worn out her right leg?

“I am kind of beat up from soccer. I have a sore hip flexor and ankles,” she said. “The extra kicking does take a toll. But I take a break on Sundays and then go back to everything again on Mondays.”

TRAILBLAZER

Lum has to find her own dressing room accommodations for football, especially on the road. So far, this hasn’t been an issue.

“The first few games I’d just dress before and all I had to do was put my pads on,” she said. “Now, I just go find a bathroom or something.”

She’s the first girl to play football for Wilmington.

“I’ve had some girls threaten to come out and play and I told them to forget it,” said Verrelli, who is in his 33rd season. “I am looking for a kicker for next year and I saw her. I am not opposed to girls on the team. It’s just a matter of what will happen if a lineman tackles them or something?

“All I am trying to do is build a good football team and having the people that I need. Next year, I will have to take one of the players to kick off or maybe there’s a guy on the soccer team that wants to do it,” he continued. “Maybe it will set a trend (with the girls)? Who knows? As long as they can do it, that’s the key.”

Lum has inspired other girls to think about kicking for the football team.

“There is a freshman on my soccer team who asked me about kicking,” she said. “I can hear all these little girls at the football games say I am their hero.”

She is set to take over kicking field goals and extra points next season if she wants to return to the team.

“I think I might do it next year. I am still deciding,” she said. “I think I will. I love doing it.”

Lum’s been fortunate to learn from Pontius and Ryder, who do not play soccer.

“She got the hang of it pretty quickly,” Pontius said. “She turned out to do pretty well.”

Added Ryder, “She played soccer, so she could kick, but it’s a little different than kicking a soccer ball. She does pretty good.”

Ryder took over the team’s punting duties this year, while Pontius continues to kick off. The two split up the other kicking duties on their own.

“To be honest with you, I’ve told them ever since they’ve been here to decide. I don’t care who kicks off. I don’t care who kicks extra points. I leave it up to them,” Verrelli said. “They’ve been a great part of the team. They don’t miss very many extra points. To me, they both came out and stuck with it, so they can both kick. If you can get it through the uprights, go play. I leave it up to them.”

The two hope to see plenty of action tonight.

“Homecoming week is a pretty big week for us. We’re hoping it’ll be a high-scoring game so we can at least get three kicks each,” Pontius said. “We usually do rock, paper, scissors (over kicking). But, he punts and I kick off, so we get in about the same amount of time. It all evens out.”

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