by Grant Wiedenfeld
Keeper Notes contributor
In the 80th minute of the September 8 NWSL match at Chicago, CeCe Kizer darted around World Cup defender Julie Ertz and rattled the crossbar with a laser-like shot, coming within inches from scoring her first professional goal. The record-breaking striker out of Ole Miss has been the go-to sub for the Houston Dash this season, coming off the bench 13 times.
Drafted to the Dash
Kizer was the second player selected by the Dash head coach James Clarkson in January’s NWSL college draft (and 13th player overall), one of six total draft picks the Dash had this year. The transition from the college game to the NWSL can be challenging for rookies, as they have to adjust both physically and mentally to a much longer season and fewer opportunities to get on the field. NWSL games allow just three substitutions per team, while NCAA rules permit more subs and one re-entry per player in the second half.
Kizer made her professional debut May 18 versus Chicago, and earned her first NWSL start two weeks later in the 1-1 draw at Reign FC. She says she is proud that she has persevered to earn two starts and 15 appearances for the Dash with one game left in the regular season. Kizer credits her Christian faith for her strong commitment to the team and to her own development, and says pregame chapel service fosters a special bond with the other believers on the squad, but her outlook is open and accepting. “The big thing here is that everyone accepts each other for who they are, no matter what,” she says.
Kansas City roots
Kizer grew up in the Kansas City suburbs and often attended FC Kansas City NWSL games. She was coached by FCKC head coach Vlatko Andonovski (now with Reign FC) for a few seasons as a youth player, and she says that Lauren Holiday and Amy Rodriguez were her favorite players on that now-defunct team.
Kizer is the fifth of seven children, so she grew up wearing the #5 jersey (she had to go with #15 for her Dash jersey since #5 was already taken by Clare Polkinghorne). So if you hear a fan cheering “Come on, Fiver!” at Dash games at BBVA Stadium, it’s probably her father.
Growing up she played ball of all sorts with her older brother and the boys. “I was fascinated by sports,” she remembers. “My mom says my first word was ‘ball’.” At Blue Valley Northwest High School, soccer became her primary sport over her dad’s favorite, basketball. “I love to run,” she explains, “so I’m addicted to being on the field and having the ball at my feet.”
Kizer eventually caught the eye of an Ole Miss scout at a tournament in Missouri. She played mostly centerback in high school and was recruited by Mississippi to play that position, but then moved to her preferred forward position and later to midfield as she became a break-out star in the Southeastern Conference and arguably the greatest player in Ole Miss soccer history. She set program records for career goals (48) and points (119), and finished third all-time in assists (23). She’s just the second player drafted into NWSL from Mississippi, after Brazilian Rafaelle Souza (Houston Dash, 2014).
Nordic Cup champ
Kizer and her Dash teammate Haley Hanson were called up to the under-23 US women’s national team for the annual Nordic Cup tournament in late August. The two girls from Kansas go way back — Kizer remembers when her Blue Valley high school squad outdueled Hanson’s Olathe East team 4–3 to earn a berth in the state tournament.
With Hanson as captain, the US youth squad won the tournament held in England with two wins and a draw, boosting the confidence of both players heading into the last leg of the NWSL season. Kizer featured in all three games, starting twice. She feels like she held her own in her first international tournament and just her second stint with the U-23s. “I really like to get the ball, be faced up, take people on one-on-one and distribute,” Kizer says. Her consistent performance with the youth team could bode well for a call-up to the December senior USWNT camp under the yet-to-be-named new head coach.
South of the border
As the Dash prepare to make history with friendly against LigaMX Femenil squad Tigres, Kizer is in prime position to get another start for the Dash with several starters away on international duty. First-year head coach James Clarkson is certainly looking for the rookie to run rampant through the Tigres defense, whether he plays her at forward or in central midfield, where she is most comfortable.
Dash fans are eager to see Kizer score her first goal with the club, and she sounds hopeful when she says she will “keep working, shooting as much as I can, and hopefully one day it will fall.” Her primary objective is always to “help the team win as best I can,” she declares, “however it comes.”
Kizer’s Twitter profile displays a favorite Bible verse that speaks to support that faith has for her: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength … they will run and not grow weary,” a line that holds a more literal meaning for a young soccer professional.
The Tigres/Dash match kicks off tonight at 9:15 pm CT and will stream live on both the Tigres Femenil Facebook and Twitter feeds.
Listen to CeCe Kizer’s interview with Keeper Notes’ Jen Cooper on the Dash Digital Spotlight.