Ahead of her junior year, Kayla Bierlein, a soccer player since age seven, decided to try something new.
While it’s not uncommon for athletes to try their hand (or feet) at another sport, last summer Kayla decided to take up football. Approached by no one, she had her sights on kicking the ball through the uprights for the Cavaliers in the fall.
“Kicking was something that I wanted to try and was determined to give it a go, so I went to tryouts over the summer,” she said.
Not only was Bierlein breaking into a male-dominated sport, but she admitted to not knowing much about football before trying out, to go along with limited knowledge of the nuances that go into kicking a football opposed to the soccer ball she was used to.
“I was not much of a football fan. I had been to a a few high school games to cheer on the team when my brother played,” she said. “I knew absolutely nothing about the game of football or kicking a football before going out for the team, however, I’m very familiar with kicking a soccer ball. I learned quickly there is a difference between how you kick a football and how you kick a soccer ball, it’s just a different technique.”
Kayla’s brother,Tyler Bierlein, was the goalie for the soccer team and the kicker for Middletown two years ago as a senior.
“Tyler has been extremely supportive of me trying this new sport,” she said. “He gave me a few pointers along the way that were helpful.”
Admittedly, another member of the family was both nervous and excited for Kayla’s choice to kick for the football team.
“I’m not going to lie, I was very nervous for her,” said Denise Bierlein, Kayla’s mother. “The first few games were hard for me to watch my baby girl with all those boys, but it got easier as the season went on, she was in good hands.”
“I thought it was amazing that she wanted to try something outside her comfort zone,” Denise said. “She thought everything over and said she wanted the opportunity to play football, something many females do not have the opportunity to do. She’s a very driven and determined young lady and does not like to be told she cannot do something. She knew it was risky, but the fact she was willing to give it a try made me so proud.”
With loads of soccer experience, including her current role with the Delaware Union travel team, Kayla had always been told she possessed a strong leg and powerful kick by coaches throughout her career. While this gave her confidence, finding her rhythm kicking the football in games took some time.
“I would say the most challenging part was dealing with the mental aspect of the game, adjusting to kicking a different ball, but mostly having a crowd of people watching with all eyes on me when it comes time to kick,” she said.
Throughout the challenge of becoming the team’s kicker, Kayla had the backing of the entire team including players and coaches which helped in her as she continued to get comfortable with her role.
“My coaches and teammates were extremely supportive and encouraging and made me feel like part of the team,” she said. “[Assistant] Coach [Gene] Beitman is a great coach and was extremely helpful to me with adjusting to a new sport and always had confidence in me, which is great.”
While there are plenty of players from this year’s Middletown football team worthy of admiration, Bierlein proved to be an inspiration for area youth this season, something she sees as an honor.
“I do it simply because I love sports and I hope to continue to inspire young girls to try out for any sport that they love,” she said. “I believe having a true passion and love for the sport is key; I believe that females can do anything males can do.”
That message and the inspiration she’s helped create have brought with it an endless feeling of pride within her family.
“I’m speechless,” said Denise. “I’m amazed at all the support she’s received from her teammates, coaches and all the spectators at each game. To say I’m proud of her would be an understatement. It’s heartwarming to know she’s making an impact.”
Bierlein showed her appreciation to everyone who has helped her along the path toward becoming the kicker for this year’s Division I runner-up, from her family at home to her family on the field.
“I’m thankful that my parents and family have always been very supportive of anything I do,” she said. “The opportunity to kick for the team was exciting. It’s rare for female athletes to get this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Luckily, I’m just a junior, so I get to do this again next year and I cannot wait for next season.”