Just six years ago, Kelly DePompa finished a standout A.L. Brown soccer career as a three-time All-South Piedmont Conference selection.
DePompa, 24, is back at Kannapolis in her first year as the girls' soccer coach, and while she still has moves on the field, having played four seasons at UNC Charlotte, she will now have to get used to being on the sidelines.
"It's great to be back, and I am excited about the team," said DePompa, who is also an assistant coach on the boys' soccer team. "I know the program isn't quite where we want it to be, but I know what it takes to get better."
DePompa knew she was taking on a challenge at her alma mater, as the Wonders have struggled to win and compete consistently in a strong soccer conference. But Kannapolis is already making progress.
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After winning three games last year, they have already matched that total at 3-9 overall, including 2-5 in the SPC. DePompa is not measuring her success in wins and losses, instead focusing on how her team competes.
This year's Wonders team has been led offensively by senior forward Korri Sassman, the leading scorer, and midfielder Jordan Forrest. On defense, senior McKenzie Church and Megan Shue have been the most reliable players in the back four.
DePompa and her team got one of their biggest wins of the season last week, when they beat archrival Concord, 4-1, in front of their home crowd.
"If you look at this team - where they were when we started just this season - you wouldn't even recognize them now," DePompa said. "They have taken so many strides forward as a team, even though a lot of them really didn't know how to play soccer."
DePompa gets a lot of her patience and teaching ability from school, where she is also a special education teacher. DePompa says she learned a lot about herself in college on and off the soccer field.
All of that experience has helped her understand that soccer is only a part of what she is teaching and coaching at A.L. Brown.
"Being a student-athlete in college and juggling all that it includes was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do," she said. "But I learned so much. You have to keep working hard all the time and improving, no matter what you do. That is the main message I have to my players."
DePompa's players listen to her, knowing that their coach has been in their shoes as a soccer player at A.L. Brown and going on to succeed as a student-athlete at Charlotte.
If her track record is any indication, success should soon follow DePompa and the Wonders' soccer team.
A.L. Brown athletic director Ron Massey is confident that DePompa will be able to turn her alma mater's program around.
"We know that she's been there and we know that she cares about this school," he said. "In this day and age, it is so hard to find good coaches. I think we have found a really, really good one here."