By MIKE SHAFFER
For the Star Beacon
For Lakeside soccer player Kaytee Candela, it’s been all about her team. Even with the Dragons fighting injures and the frustration of ties and close defeats on the way to a 3-10-3 record this year, the senior is nothing but smiles when she reflects on her season, especially her teammates.
“I’ve played other sports, softball, track, but with soccer our teams were always close together, we were like a family,” Candela said.
One of her closest friends and teammates is Alex Johnson. Johnson, also a senior, has played with Candela since they were in the fifth grade.
“When she is on the field, she has an alter-ego, it’s called ‘Soccer Kaytee,’” Johnson said. “She gets so into the game it’s so fun to watch.”
Candela, or as her teammates call her “Soccer Kaytee,” is the Ashtabula County Coaches’ Player of the Year. This year, she scored 23 goals with 9 assists. For her four-year career, she has scored a school-record 65 goals. The previous record was 23. Also, keep in mind, she missed part of her sophomore year with an ankle injury.
“I had no idea what the record was,” Candela said. “Then my freshman year, I went out and scored 20. It’s really something I can be proud of.”
For Dragons coach Ed Paneto, though, he was more proud of what Candela brought to his program for her character and dedication more than anything you’ll find on a stat sheet.
“She’s definitely the most all-around, dedicated player I’ve ever coached,” Paneto said. “She plays club ball, she doesn’t miss a practice, she’s totally dedicated to one sport and it shows.”
Candela’s role on the Dragons team this year was to score and provide leadership. As a two-time captain, it’s a role she handled well.
“She did amazing,” Paneto said. “It’s a lot of responsibility when you have to keep everybody in check. She was not only captain, but she was speaking captain. If anybody didn’t know where they needed to be, you could be sure Kaytee would let them know.”
And even though she will be leaving the program for graduation, the example left behind is something that a program can grow from.
“The younger players look up to Kaytee and they know what to expect,” Paneto said. “We have a couple of players here that have the ability if they want to go out and give it 100 percent, but Kaytee will be tough to duplicate.”
Candela began playing soccer at the age of four and was playing year round by time she was seven. Her parents could not be more proud of her most recent accomplishment.
“We’re more than proud, we’re thrilled for her,” her mom. Chris said. “We put her in gymnastics. but she had an issue with her elbow that she couldn’t do anything with her arms, so we had to pick up her legs.”
The issue was her elbow came out of it’s joint, but getting the legs going is what made her a standout of the soccer field as other coaches have noticed.
“We played all the county schools this year and she is the only girl we marked,” Geneva coach Brian O’Dell said. “We marked her the whole game because we knew she is so fast that if you don’t mark her she is going to hurt you. I watched her play all summer and she is the fastest soccer player around here. If you don’t mark and bump her she going to kill you. Speed-wise, she is a very special player and should definitely be playing at the next level.”
Speed is something that Candela says she was naturally blessed with and is a big part of her game.
“I could just always run very fast and I try to use that to my advantage on the field,” Candela said.
For Candela, her soccer career at Lakeside ended Monday night at Spire with the Ashtabula County senior game. Her playing days are far from finished, though.
She has and will continue to play year round with the Claymores soccer club, a team which gave her an oppourtunity to play in Scotland in 2012.
“We went there for a tournament two summers ago,” she said. “I couldn’t play with my team, though, because it was an all-boys team, at the time. So I was put on a Brazilian (all-girls) team. They all spoke Portuguese.”
Candela is also involved with coaching youth soccer teams in the community and is considering Baldwin-Wallace, Thiel and Edinboro University, among other colleges, where she might continue her playing career while studying for a degree in education.
What meant more to her though than her goal record, her speed or playing in Scottland was the bond and memories she will take away from her teammates.
“I’m going to miss my team the most,” she said. “We are so close.”
Shaffer is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.