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Women’s soccer standout almost never arrived

Chelsea Klotz controlled the ball, beat two defenders and scored past the diving Illinois State goalkeeper — giving USF a 3-2 double-overtime victory. The USF Soccer Stadium roared as the freshman sprinted to the corner of the field, where she was engulfed by her teammates.

The next day, she was named’s Player of the Week for her performance, in which she scored two of her three goals this season.

And to think — it all might never have happened.

Klotz grew up in Williamsport, Pa. — a small town best known for hosting the Little League World Series.

But her parents felt that she wasn’t getting the exposure she needed to be successful at soccer, so before her freshman year of high school, the Klotz family moved to Orlando.

“I didn’t want to go,” Klotz said. “I fought my father pretty hard for a while to change his mind.”

Carmen Klotz, Chelsea’s mother, said the move was difficult on the whole family.

“We left a lot of family in Williamsport,” she said. “It was a town we had known for so long, and it was a tough move on everyone.”

Soccer wasn’t the only reason the Klotzes decided to migrate to the Sunshine State.

“We moved here mainly because of Chelsea’s soccer career,” Carmen said. “But I also suffer from Lupus. It’s an autoimmune deficiency, and being in a cold-weather climate is hard on my joints.”

Bryan Klotz, Chelsea’s father, said he felt it was the right move for her career.

“She didn’t want to move down here,” he said. “To be fair, you have to put it into perspective. She was just starting high school, and that is a tough time in a girl’s life. We loved Williamsport, but there just wasn’t enough opportunity there.”

“I went from a school of 800 people to 3,500,” Chelsea said. “It was the toughest period in my life. I just wasn’t fitting in.

“It got to be too much at one point, and I decided I was ready to quit playing soccer.”

She said she was ready to pick up the phone, call her coach and say she was giving up on the game she had played since she was 5 years old.

Chelsea, however, never made that call.

“My father was so supportive through that time period,” she said. “He told me to stick with it, even though it was tough. He really made me believe that I had it in me.”

Four years later, Chelsea was arguably the most touted female high school soccer player in Florida. She had scored more than 100 career goals and was named class 2A Florida Girls Soccer Player of the Year her senior season after scoring 64 goals and 15 assists.

“There would have been no way I would have done it without my parents,” she said.

In the midst of all that, she dealt with yet another move.

Chelsea spent her first three years in Florida at Lake Brantley High School in Seminole county. But the Klotzes moved to Lakeland between her junior and senior year. She then attended Tampa Preparatory High School — and led Tampa Prep to a 26-1-1 record and a state championship.

Pam Smith coached Chelsea at Tampa Prep in that championship year.

“That year was great,” Smith said. “It was my first state championship. To be able to coach Chelsea for her senior year was an awesome experience. She is a natural team leader, so she had a big impact.”

Chelsea said she wasn’t expecting the success she had in her senior year.

“I didn’t really expect to have that kind of year,” she said. “I didn’t really change anything. It’s just every time I saw the goal, I had a different vision. I always wanted to win a championship, and it was unbelievable to do so.”

Bryan said that year made everything their family had endured worthwhile.

“It was a dream come true,” he said. “After all the moving and transitioning, watching her do what she did that year made it all worth it. We are so proud of all the things she accomplished.”

Perhaps her most proud accomplishment was being able to sign a letter of intent — to play at USF.

“I knew USF would be a great place to play,” she said. “Everyone on the team loves each other. We all hang out together, so it’s been a lot of fun.”

Smith, who got her master’s degree at USF, was there to see Chelsea’s game-winning goal against Illinois State.

“I’ve been a Bulls fan my whole life,” Smith said. “I haven’t missed a home game all year. It’s really the first time I’ve ever watched a former player on a regular basis.”

In her first college game, Chelsea had 10 shots, and scored on her first shot on goal. She is ranked second in the Big East in total shots taken this season, and third in shots per game.

Coach Denise Schilte-Brown said Chelsea has been a bright addition to the team.

“She is a naturally talented player,” Schilte-Brown said. “Her athleticism really stretches the defense. Best of all, she has the right attitude.”

Assistant coach Randy Belli said Chelsea impressed him right away.

“Some players you can look at and just see it,” he said. “Chelsea is just a natural goal scorer, and there aren’t a lot of players you can say that about.”

After all the hardships, Bryan and Carmen said they couldn’t be happier with Chelsea being at USF.

“She’s really enjoying it at here,” Carmen said. “After everything, it’s a joy to see her experience this success. She’s really enjoying herself.”

One of the biggest perks of college life for Chelsea, Bryan said, is the greater independence it provides.

“I think she likes the freedom too much,” he said, laughing. “She’s still close enough so I can jump on her every now and then, though.”

Chelsea said she is ready to win a championship at USF.

“I want to win the Big East. I think that we are more than capable of winning championships here.”