Kelli Zickert smiles easily and is quick to laugh. Her disposition on the soccer field is all business.
The junior Buffalo Grove midfielder is not one to back away from challenges.
“You have to have a lot of confidence in yourself and believe when you walk onto the field that you can beat anyone,” she said.
Zickert put on a performance of the ages last week in leading the No. 6 Bison to a 4-0 record, including three straight victories in the Pepsi Showdown that propelled Buffalo Grove to the championship game Sunday against No. 2 Plainfield North at Toyota Park.
She scored the only goal in the Bison’s 1-0 victory over No. 3 and previously undefeated New Trier. She also scored two goals in a quarterfinal game against Glenbrook North and a first-round game over Oswego.
For her accomplishment, Zickert is the Chicago Sun-Times Athlete of the Week.
Zickert is a deft ball handler and explosive scoring with either foot.
“She doesn’t need much space and then she is just uncanny in how she comes up at that the most inopportune time to make a play against you,” New Trier coach Jim Burnside said.
To understand what makes her tick, the best authority is her identical twin sister Colleen, who plays opposite her in the Bison’s middle formation.
“We’ve always had that person to play with and push each other,” Colleen said.
Kelli Zickert said the twins’ older sister Lauren was the first in the family and “our parents needed to get us in some activity to wear us out.” Now Buffalo Grove’s opposition is feeling the pinch. Kelli has scored 19 goals in the Bison’s 12-0-1 start. Colleen has eight goals.
“I don’t think I’ll ever catch up with her,” Colleen said.
Chemistry and making connections on the field is paramount in soccer. The twins have a telling way of communicating.
“We have been competing with each other and playing with each other forever,” Kelli said. “I know where she is going to be and she knows where I am going to be on the field.
“I also know how she moves with the ball and that allows us to play at a much quicker pace.”
Buffalo Grove coach Pat Dudle said the team’s offensive strengths are suited to Kelli Zickert’s skills.
“I consider dribbling, first touch and field vision the strengths in [my] game,” she said.
At just 5-2, Zickert is not a commanding physical presence. Her skill and tenacity put her at a different level.
Zickert does not shy away from contact or taking on bigger challenges. Against New Trier’s physical and rangy backline, she deftly maneuvered in open spaces. On the game-winner, she caught a ball from Skylar Groth and quickly shifted the ball from her right to left foot that gave her just enough space to launch the ball.
Zickert leads the third-seeded Bison into the final game at the Pepsi Showdown in the team’s first ever appearance at the tournament.
Buffalo Grove captured three state trophies (one second, two four-place) in a four-year stretch in the middle 1990s. This team has greater aspirations.
“Our freshman year we lost in the regional final game and last year we lost in the sectional final,” Zickert said.
“We want to improve on what we did last year. Every team’s goal is to get to the state finals and we are the same as everyone else.”
Kelli Zickert’s favorites
Favorite sport: Soccer
Favorite team: Manchester United
Favorite athlete: Brazilian soccer star Fabio
Favorite movie: The seven Harry Potter films
Favorite television show: Grey’s Anatomy
Favorite food: Key lime pie
Favorite musical group: Hunter Hayes
Favorite place visited: San Diego