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Former Lady Panther making mark on the pitch

Lady Trapper Kayla Atkinson fights for the ball against Western Nebraska Community College at Trapper Field recently. Atkinson, who starred for the PHS Lady Panthers, is continuing her soccer career in her hometown. Lady Trapper Kayla Atkinson fights for the ball against Western Nebraska Community College at Trapper Field recently. Atkinson, who starred for the PHS Lady Panthers, is continuing her soccer career in her hometown. Tribune photo by Mark Davis

Kayla Atkinson brings passion, tenacity to Lady Trappers

Just a few short months ago, Kayla Atkinson, then a senior captain for the Lady Panthers soccer team, was leading her team to a sixth place finish at the 3A State Tournament.

These days, Atkinson can be found roaming Trapper Field for the Northwest College Lady Trappers, who opened their season with a pair of tough losses last weekend. Atkinson started both games as a midfielder for NWC, and was praised by coach Jessica Lum for covering a lot of ground and “running up and making plays.”

A Powell native, Atkinson came up through the ranks of Park County youth soccer, beginning with rec-league teams at the age of 6. She advanced to the Heart Mountain United traveling team and then on to Powell High School.

Atkinson would be named the team’s Most Valuable Player for her senior season — one capped by the Lady Panthers’ first state tournament with multiple wins.

“I remember my coaches being very supportive of me the whole entire time I was there,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson said she chose NWC after a representative for the team contacted her after her senior campaign.

“He contacted me and asked if I would be willing to come play for NWC,” Atkinson said. “He said there would be a scholarship involved, so that really helped me decide. I knew that I would have to keep my grades up, so that was an extra little push.”

Transitioning from the high school game to college has been an eye-opening experience for Atkinson, but one she definitely enjoys. The pace of the game is faster, as well as more physical.

“The aggressiveness of the girls in college, it’s a whole different game — everything from grabbing the jerseys to completely illegal stuff that’s uncalled for,” she said. “It’s a big jump from high school to college. But it’s a lot of fun.”

Another adjustment Atkinson has had to make in a relatively short time is how to play with a whole new team; she’s gone from a high school team comprised almost entirely of girls she grew up playing with to starting on a team with only a couple of recognizable faces.

“It’s an interesting experience; I love being on a new team,” Atkinson said. “It’s been great getting to know everybody — especially the girls from Scotland and England; we have a girl from Japan. It’s a wide variety of people and personalities, and it’s a lot of fun.”

There are also girls on the Lady Trappers roster who Atkinson played with and against in high school. Former PHS teammates Katie Brown and Abbie Hogan are on the NWC squad — and Atkinson is also enjoying wearing the same jersey as old rivals.

“My roommate, Kenadee Jenkins, I played against her for four years” with Star Valley, Atkinson said. “When I found out she was my roommate and on my team, that was another big thing.”

With a couple of games now under their belts, Atkinson said the Lady Trappers are beginning to gel as a team.

“It was a rocky start to begin with,” she said. “But now that we’ve got a few games underneath us, we’re figuring out how to play together and how everyone works differently. We all come from a different background with different coaches, grew up playing different styles. It’s fitting together now, and I think it will continue from here for the season.”

Playing under coach Lum has also been a learning experience, but one Atkinson said she is benefitting from.

“She’s definitely a new style of coach that I’ve played for,” Atkinson said. “I do like the way she makes us do fitness and stuff like that; we’re definitely in shape more than I was in high school. We’re a young team with a new coach, and we’re all just getting to know each other a little bit better, and that’s a lot of fun.”

The Lady Trappers are on the road for the next four games, beginning with a match at Gillette College on Friday. Atkinson said she’s looking forward to that contest and squaring off with Kylie Cannon an old friend from PHS.

“It will be different playing against her, but I’m very excited to be on the field with her again — even though it’s not going to be on the same side,” Atkinson said.

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