When Junior Canadian National Team defender Kelly Matthews came to Bloomington for the first time, it was up to Indiana head coach Barry King to do most of the talking.
Matthews had never given much thought to playing in the NCAA. Going away to college just wasn’t something many people did her hometown of Roxboro, Quebec, Canada. She figured she’d just continue to play for her club team while training for the next national tryout.
King had other ideas.
He saw Matthews compete when her club team traveled down for a series in Bloomington and immediately recognized her talent. He was one of the few. Matthews didn’t put her name out in the collegiate circuit, and therefore went unmarked by most teams.
Not by Indiana.
“She was the youngest person in the pool and I thought their best player, even though they didn’t use her like she was their best player,” King said.
The visit was kismet. Matthews liked the environment, the campus, the school, the team. She liked King, and his pitch that college would be the best option for her to hone her skills for what he is confident will be a bright and longevous future on the Senior Canadian National Team. So when time came, Matthews decided to take the leap and make the difficult transition to the NCAA.
Indiana is glad she did.
Matthews scored 73 goals in her first season, the most by an Indiana freshman.
The Collegiate Water Polo Association referred to Matthews as one of “the greatest secrets in collegiate water polo” during that season. With senior playmakers like Colleen McNaught, Rebecca Gerrity and Shelby Taylor garnering the bulk of teams’ defensive focus, the relatively unheard of Canadian was often left open for scoring opportunities.
By the close of 2015, Matthews wasn’t unheard of anymore. She was the CWPA’s Rookie of the Year.
“That’s the kid that I thought I saw four years ago when she was down here with her club team,” King said. “I fully expected her to be able to do this.”
Matthews’ production hasn’t stymied in her sophomore season. She once again leads the Hoosiers (17-6) with 58 goals.
What’s more, her game has evolved. With more defenders guarding her than last season, she’s become an expert on knowing when to shoot and when to pass. Through 21 games, she’s already bested last years’ assist total with a team-leading 43 dishes. Overall, she ranks fifth in the nation in scoring and fourth in assists.
“Kelly always knows when it’s her turn,” sophomore teammate Sarah Myers said. “She doesn’t have off games.”
Myers and Matthews were friends long before their playing days at Indiana. They played together on the Canadian National Team, but neither knew of the others’ plans to attend Indiana. The two were roommates freshman year, and Myers would often have to wake up Matthews for morning practice, because Matthews would sleep cocooned in blankets with covers pulled all the way over her head, unable to hear her alarm.
But the more you get to know her, Myers said, the more Matthews comes out of her figurative cocoon. And this season, with one year under her belt, Myers, King and most importantly Matthews have noticed a transformation.
“I’m definitely more confident,” she said. “When you’re a freshman, you’re not sure where your place is yet. At this point, I feel like I’ve established my place on this team.”
The Hoosiers gradated six seniors in 2015, but thanks to Matthews’ development, King said it is hardly a rebuilding phase for the program.
The biggest part of that development has been Matthews’ ability to create offense. Last season, scoring opportunities came to her. This season, she’s making her own.
And the more she does, the more No. 15 Indiana will prosper in its quest to compete for the 2016 CWPA Championship.
“She’s got a considerable skillset,” King said. “Her ability to play at her best level consistently is what is going to keep us at the level that we need and want to be.”
Swimming news courtesy of Indiana Water Polo.