Kat Calle comes from a family full of soccer players, but she and her aunt, Carmita Maldonado, stand out as the eccentrics.
“It’s funny, in my family I have all strikers and defenders on my dad’s side, and on my mom’s side I have one aunt who’s a goalkeeper,” Calle said. “They all say, ‘Oh you get this from your aunt on your mom’s side.’ We’re the oddballs of the family.”
Steinert girls’ soccer coach Mike Hastings will take that kind of oddball any day. The senior returns for her second straight season as the Spartans’ starting goalkeeper. After splitting time on the freshman and JV teams in 9th and 10th grades, she earned the job last year and looked solid.
“I hope she’ll follow the same path (former keeper) Erika Golik did for us where she had a good junior year but had a tremendous senior year,” Hastings said. “I’m hoping Kat takes that lead for us. She did all the work in the off-season, she got stronger, she got quicker. She looks like she’s ready.”
Listening to Calle talk, she was born ready.
Her parents, Rene’ and Martha, both played the sport in Ecuador before moving to Hamilton. Rene’ continued to play in adult men’s leagues at the Bob Smith Academy and in Cranbury, and Kat loved to go watch him play. But he did not command her full attention, as her eyes often diverted to the men in goal.
“My dad is my idol in soccer,” she said. “I’d always go see him. But what drew me in was the keepers when I went to see my dad play. When he’d make these phenomenal saves in midair, I was like, ‘Yeah!’ That just seemed amazing.”
When Calle began playing in the Hamilton Recreation League at age 7, she was a forward. One day, when the coach asked who wanted to play in goal, her little arm shot up in the air and a high voice chirped, “Yeah, I’ll try it!”
“Seeing I had the opportunity to go do it, I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll end up playing like my dad’s goalkeepers,’” Calle said. “Or even professional keepers like (Guillermo) Ochoa and Hope Solo. I looked up to them, too.
“Surprisingly, I was really good at it. I wasn’t scared to come out, or chase the ball, or have a ball coming at my face. I had a lot of fun, and I still do have fun.”
It was the beginning of a love affair that still burns brightly. Calle continued to divide time between goalie and striker for several years, but by the time she hit travel ball with the Hamilton Wildcats, she knew her calling was as a keeper. She remained in goal for travel teams in Robbinsville and the Princeton Soccer Association, as well as at Steinert.
“I definitely knew I wanted to do it right away,” Calle said. “The more I did it, the more I really enjoyed it. When I did these dives—diving here, diving over there—it felt great just flying in the air and hitting the ball. I’ve always gotten this adrenaline, and this really great feeling when I’m in the air hitting balls here and there.”
Athleticism is certainly an important aspect of the position, but so too is knowing the game and how to direct defenders. That was something Calle had to learn over the course of her first varsity season.
“She’s gotten better at controlling the box,” Hastings said. “That’s one of the things her and I talked about, I told her, ‘You need to control that box more, know when to come out.’ She’s reading the game a lot better now. It’s just experience. Erika wasn’t even a goalie before her junior year, and it took her that year of playing the game, getting reads to get that experience. I think that made her much better. Kat’s been a goalie all her life, and has gotten better and better and better. It’s nice.”
Calle agreed that her biggest lesson learned last year was communication with her teammates, as well as knowing when to make the right decision.
“It was more like talking with my defense about when I come out,” she said. “Telling them I had the ball and making sure I was in the back and if they gave me the pass back I could distribute to the other side or send it over.”
Amidst her growing pains, Calle helped the rebuilding Spartans finish 12-7 by making 83 saves, including 11 in a win over Hightstown. She recorded two shutouts and shared two others with Liz Mazzella, and was victimized by six 1-0 losses, including in the state and county tournaments.
“My first year, I’m not gonna lie, I was a little timid because it was such a big responsibility,” Calle said. “But I definitely learned a lot from my mistakes and from my team as well.”
Coming into camp this year, she took nothing for granted despite the fact she was the incumbent starter.
“I always have the mentality to keep working hard, keep earning your spot,” Calle said. “Just like coach says, you gotta earn your spot on the field, no matter what. Positions are always changing. Coming into this season I feel more confident now. I’ve done so much here and in travel and with my goalie trainer, that I just feel a lot more confident.”
Which is good news for Steinert, since teams with a confident goalie also play confident themselves.
“It’s great,” Hastings said. “You don’t have to cringe on every shot. You know if you have a good back line you’re not gonna let up goals a lot. That’s how the season’s gonna go this year.”
It helps that a veteran defense returns in front of Calle, including outside backs Nicole Pappas and Sophia Laico and central defender Morgan Hart. Brielle Spadola is a returning varsity player who will take over for the talented Gabby DeLisa.
“The back looks pretty good,” Hastings said. “We have a lot of returning players who played a lot last year. We should be good. I like my team right now.”
In the middle of it all is Calle, who hopes to continue her playing career in college. She is looking into Thomas Jefferson, Dominican, Caldwell and Immaculata, and is in the process of setting up overnight visits.
That would make her not only the second goalie in the family, but the second one to play college soccer. Her cousin, Izzy Delgado, played for Mercer and New York Institute of Technology.
If that turns out to be the case, there may just be something to this oddball status.