Penn-Trafford grad Kiley Dugan has been mainstay for rising Valparaiso women’s soccer team

Monday, October 10, 2022 | 11:04 AM

When the Valparaiso women’s soccer team moved from the Horizon League to the Missouri Valley Conference five years ago, coach John Marovich knew he had to retool his roster.

The style of play would be different. The opponents would have higher-caliber athletes. The MVC would have a higher conference RPI.

Senior Kiley Dugan, a Penn-Trafford grad, was a member of the initial recruiting class that would facilitate that transition. A forward whose forte is driving the offense, Dugan had all the qualities Marovich was seeking.

“When you look at the soccer side of it, she’s someone who is a technical player,” said Marovich, in his 15th season at the helm. “She’s comfortable with the ball at her feet. She has her head up, so she’s going to make connecting passes.

“Beyond that, she’s just … the best way to put it is she’s a proud Pittsburgher. She puts her hard hat on, goes to work every day, puts her heart on her sleeve. She’s a passionate player, an emotional player. … If you add talent on top of that, now you’re really in business.”

Dugan and the four other remaining members of her recruiting class — defender Nicole Norfolk, keeper Georgia Henkel, defender Natalie Graf and forward Elizabeth Park — have been instrumental in elevating the Beacons to MVC preseason favorites, a first since they joined the conference. Valpo is 3-1-0 in the conference after Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Missouri State.

Sunday was Dugan’s 12th start in 12 matches this season. That continued her streak of starting every match since she arrived at Valpo. It is a distinction, she said, she worked hard to earn and one she doesn’t take for granted.

“My freshman year, a lot of people say you shouldn’t expect to start your freshman year,” she said. “But that wasn’t something I was going to accept. I came in, I worked my butt off and found my way into the starting lineup and it just kind of stuck. I have done everything in my power to stay there.

“You could get hurt at any minute, or we could bring in some all-star freshman. So I just come in every year as if I am a freshman again, ready to earn my spot again.”

Dugan earned first-team all conference honors as a sophomore and was a second-teamer last year. This season, she received her second nod for the MVC preseason all-conference team.

Considering she has scored all of three career goals — that’s not the general expectation for someone who plays forward — all the accolades might seem surprising. But Marovich said raw numbers belie her productivity and value.

He likes to tell his players that each one of them has a different “super power” and to embrace it. For Dugan, her super power, he said, is her aforementioned comfort in handling the ball. That, he said, allows her to shine at facilitating the offense.

“She’s a forward who plays in what we classify in our brand as the ‘creative gap,’ ” he said.

“The space between the midfielders and defenders is what we call the creative gap.

“We want creative players to have the ball in that gap space because they’re the ones who are going to find that last pass. They’re going to get to the end line and cross the ball into the box. … That’s where she excels.”

Added Dugan: “As a forward, you have expectations. You’re supposed to score goals. But I have never really been that player. Setting up opportunities for my teammates around me is just something really special, and that’s something I have been working on for four years: Who can I get to score today, and how can I do it and how can I affect the game?”

Something else Dugan has been working at for four years is bringing an MVC title to Valpo. The Beacons advanced to the title game in her sophomore year, then, as the second-place team last season, were bounced in the semifinals.

Though she has the option of staying another year because of the NCAA’s covid exception, Dugan isn’t yet sure she is going to take it. So if this is, indeed, her last season at Valpo, she wants to finish what she and the other seniors started.

She wants to go out a champion.

“It’s everything to me and this team,” she said. “We (seniors) were the first ones recruited for the Valley. … Four years it took us to get here, and this is everything to us. We’re going to make it count our last time.”

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