Cheney soccer star Kellie Zakrzewski wears a sweatshirt that reads “Lil Chef.” The four-year starter (whose name is pronounced Zak-CHEF-ski) scores goals with an artistry befitting a French Cordon Bleu culinary school degree.
Before she’s done, Zakrzewski, last year’s Great Northern League MVP and third-year all-leaguer, could approach 110 goals in a high school career that’s included three state berths and a state semifinals appearance.
This year she has scored 20 times with seven games remaining in the season – not counting playoffs – and a total of 96 overall entering today’s first-place showdown at home against Pullman.
Pullman’s Greyhounds, as they did against West Valley on Tuesday, won the first match in a shootout following a 0-0 standoff.
“People have told me I’m (special), but I don’t know what to think,” Zakrzewski said, adding she isn’t sure she’d have had such success in the Greater Spokane League. “I’m always second-guessing myself.”
But she’s been successful with the Spokane Shadow program and plays for the Washington Olympic Development Program (ODP) state team against high-level competition. She’s been a terror in the GNL, often drawing legions of defenders in the matches.
Some of her scoring success is because of playing with a stable of teammates for a decade or more, Cheney coach Robyn Smith said.
Much is attributable to her stepmother, Carolyn, who imparted a love of the sport, coupled with an innate sense of the game. Carolyn said that one of Kellie’s coaches, Kevin Moon, said that she has a vision on the field most people don’t have.
Carolyn was a runner in Seattle who was asked to play on an adult soccer team. She also became Kellie’s coach and a driving force when she was young.
“I think I’ve helped direct her,” Carolyn said. “If I hadn’t come into her life, I don’t know if she’d be playing soccer today.”
Kellie said she has played soccer since she could walk, following the footsteps of older brother Adam, who was nicknamed “Chef,” hence her sweatshirt moniker.
“I’ve loved it ever since I started,” she said.
Her career was typical, beginning at the recreational level and advancing to premier, with trips around the country. She has played with Cheney teammates Tonya Baker, Nicole Fox and Chelsea Breen, later joined by Jessica Ziemann, for much of that career.
Division I schools showed interest, but she’s chosen NCAA Division II national champion Seattle Pacific because of her desire for a complete college experience and family-like atmosphere, and since the Falcons’ coaches are also her ODP coaches. Her plans are to enter some phase of sports medicine for a career.
“Honestly, I think she could play Division I,” said Smith, who played at Washington State. “She’s probably one of the best players in state, for sure. She’s a hard worker, super crafty offensively and knows the game so well. She’s very creative and I haven’t seen girls strike the ball like Kellie can.”
Smith and Kellie arrived at Cheney together. The 5-foot-4 athlete always has been a goal-scoring machine, joking that she was a “cherry picker” when little, but learning early that there was more to the game than just scoring goals.
“My stepmom used to rip me to pieces because I did not play defense,” she said.
Carolyn, a Seattle Pacific graduate, met Richard Zakrzewski, a Fairchild Survival School instructor, when Kellie was 21/2. They married following a long-distance courtship.
She first got into coaching with her stepson and improved her knowledge by talking with other coaches, researching on-line and reading books. A teacher of fundamentals, she said when she “topped out” it was time for Kellie to move to a higher level.
“Kellie is a very competitive young lady, with a lot of drive,” she said. “We hooked her up with Kevin Moon, and to me he was that person who took her goal scoring from being good to being great.”
When the ball is at Kellie’s feet, she’s dangerous, Carolyn said. Kellie said it’s because she has learned to think two or three passes ahead during a game.
“It goes back to the fact she has vision on the field,” Carolyn said. “It’s something you cannot teach. You either have it or you don’t.”
And it’s the means to creating a soccer-scoring culinary masterpiece.