Recruited as a defensive player, Kim DeCesare never thought she would be playing striker. But that is what she has been doing this season, scoring six goals and notching three assists to lead the No. 4 Blue Devils to a 4-1 start.
The redshirt junior has come a long way, both figuratively and literally, from her days in high school. As an outside back from Massapequa, N.Y., DeCesare was often far from the goal. It seems every year, though, that she would move closer and closer to the opposing goal. After recovering from an ACL tear her freshman year, she became a defensive midfielder, before being placed in an attacking role in the midfield and then finally a striker this season.
“Wherever Kimmy ends up playing, we know we’d get Kimmy’s maximum effort,” head coach Robbie Church said.
DeCesare knew of the possible switch from midfield last spring when teammates Mollie Pathman and Kelly Cobb were considered for selection to compete for the United States at the U-20 World Cup in Japan. Church felt the change would get her minutes and was a short move from her role last season as an attacking midfielder.
“Last year she’d play some, but she didn’t start and she came off the bench,” Church said. “We had to find some time for her, so we talked about it and she spent time working on it.”
And work on it she did. She spent her summer training to become a forward, doing a lot of shooting and starting to get into the mindset of a lead attacker. In the New York area, she was able to meet and train with teammates Callie Simpkins, Libby Jandl and Laura Weinberg, who spent the summer in New York City. She also played for the Long Island Rough Riders, a club team, but did not play as a striker.
The evolutionary anthropology student was also able to fit in a research trip to Costa Rica during the summer, where she studied primates such as spider monkeys and capuchins.
While DeCesare said that she likes animals and nature, she has not found something she is as passionate about as soccer, and hopes to have a career that keeps her a part of the game.
“I think coaching is going to be my calling, to be honest,” DeCesare said. “My mind is open, so unless I find something else I love I’m going to stick with soccer, not just playing but somehow related to soccer…. I definitely want to play after college. I have realistic views on it. If it works out, it works out.” This passion, hard work and perseverance are traits Church associates closely with DeCesare, describing her as a “self-made player."
“We talk about what it takes and a lot of people say they’ll do what it takes. But with Kimmy her actions spoke much louder than her words. She wanted to know what it took, but she went and did it,” Church said. “Her desire and work off the field has put her in the position she’s in and I couldn’t be happier for her.”
DeCesare has what Church describes as a “knack of being in the right place at the right time.” He highlights DeCesare’s ability to accelerate and to separate herself from defenders as her strongest assets as a striker.
Her success so far is shown not only by her team-leading goal tally, but also in the efficiency in which she has recorded these strikes. Her six goals with 23 shots means she averages a goal every 3.8 shots.
“The amazing thing for me is she doesn’t need a lot of shots to score goals,” Church said. “Most strikers need around 4 or 5 shots to score.”
DeCesare said that her transition to the position is helped by the fact that she is flanked by Cassie Pecht and Weinberg, who supply her with many opportunities to score.
“They’re so talented,” DeCesare said. “They beat their defender and cross the ball into a scoring area, and I’m usually the closest to it, so all I have to do is touch it.”
At 5-foot-10, she is usually the tallest on the field, which helps her reach the crosses played to her.
Now as a veteran leader on the team, she makes sure that new players understand the importance of using their teammates effectively.
“I love my team,” DeCesare said. “We all help each other out. The first thing I tell the freshmen when they come in [is]… it’s not just you competing with everybody else. You make friends and everybody wants you to do well, that it’s not just you alone.”
No matter where DeCesare has played, she has demonstrated doing whatever it takes for Duke to win. Last season at N.C. State, a ball bounced off goalkeeper Tara Campbell and was rolling toward the Duke goal with the ACC regular-season title on the line. The closest player for the Blue Devils was DeCesare, who sprinted back after the ball.
“The only reason I didn’t think it was going in the goal was because Kimmy was chasing it. If anybody else was chasing it I think it would have gone in the goal,” Church said.
With her long strides DeCesare caught up to the ball and slid in for a game-saving clearance, and without concern for her body she hit her head on the concrete behind the goal. That play is one Church considers to be one of the biggest of last season, and one that epitomizes what Kim DeCesare is all about.
“Long strides and her huge heart,” Church said. “That is a great combination.”