Destrehan soccer star left imprint with Wildcats

Noelle Kelley looks to make a play during this past soccer season for Destrehan.

Noelle Kelley has a knack for leaving things better than when she found them.

The recent Destrehan graduate leaves among her senior class’ most accomplished student-athletes, having compiled a long list of honors and accomplishments in the sporting arena and classroom alike.

But one thing that certainly stands out among Kelley’s contributions as an athlete: her teams became winners.

The Ladycats’ soccer and volleyball programs were going through major struggles before she and a group of then-freshmen classmates arrived and started to assert themselves as leaders and competitors. By the time the group graduated, the soccer team had a district championship and appearances in the state semifinals and quarterfinals, while the volleyball team won a district crown and this past year earned a first round playoff victory.

Kelley is quick to point out both were major team efforts. Certainly, though, her contributions made a large impact, particularly in soccer where she became a two-time All-State selection in each of her last two years.

“I watched the season before (her arrival) because my sister was a freshman on the team, and I could see that year was a struggle,” Kelley said. “But we had a lot of freshmen coming in who had played together, and we had good leadership from our upperclassmen.

“It was a building season, but we definitely started growing in our sophomore year, and by the time we were juniors, we established a name for ourselves, that we were ready to compete and we weren’t afraid to compete with the private schools that invest a lot of money into their programs … we felt like, we may be a public school, but we can compete at any level.”

The Wildcats’ confidence grew quickly, and the results followed in kind. DHS built a winning foundation and, ultimately, made two deep playoff runs in the Division II playoffs, including a run to the state quarterfinals this past season and an unbeaten district championship.

“I think people in the past may have seen Destrehan on their schedule and scoffed,” Kelley said. “But I think we’ve definitely changed that perception.”

Kelley, a forward, was a team captain for two years and an All-District performer in all four years and her district’s Offensive MVP as a junior.

Off the soccer field, she was a standout for the volleyball and tennis programs, an All-District selection twice for the latter. She was also a member of the school’s student council for four years, the last three of which she served as her class president.

Leadership seems to come naturally for her.

“For me, I’ve never believed leadership is about being that person who constantly tears down. If someone is struggling, and you handle it that way, you’ll make them break down even more,” Kelley said. “So I try and help by building someone up. Especially if someone’s struggling, you try to help them first.”

That comes from a core belief that, no matter the team sport, a group is only as good as its weakest player.

“In volleyball, if you have a person who represents a weakness, the other team is going to target that person and attack. So it’s about helping to make sure everyone can fill their role and be at their best,” she said.

Unless the group is strong as a collective, team accolades won’t follow — nor even many of the individual ones. Kelley called her selection to the All-State soccer team a team honor.

“If our midfielder, doesn’t find me with her pass, I never score  that goal,” Kelley said. “I might get the recognition, but there are 20 different people playing a part in that.”

Now Kelley enjoys her summer before heading off to Savannah College of Art, where she plans to pursue a degree in fashion design, a longtime passion of hers. Though she also tried out for the soccer team and earned a spot, she ultimately elected to bypass playing at the college level, noting the commitment would likely demand too much time from her studies.

One can be sure she’ll keep an eye on her alma mater, though. After the arrival of the soccer program, she expects the milestones to keep coming.

“Even moving back to Division I next year, I think the success we had in Division II was a huge confidence boost for our team and program,” Kelley said.  “I think they’re going to continue to excel, and the program will go even further in the years to come.”

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