STRATFORD—The best advice Bunnell High School soccer senior Olivia Kells got during the recruitment was process was simple and succinct.
Love the school. Love the coaches.
Kells took that advice to heart and found what she was looking at a place not far from home.
The senior striker, who led the Bulldogs to the state tournament for the first time since her freshman year, signed an NCAA Letter of Intent to play soccer at Division 1 Sacred Heart University during a brief ceremony on Monday at BHS.
“I honestly would say I just loved it,” Kells said. “I visited and fell in love with the campus and I really wanted to be close to home. My brother attends UConn and even that felt so far away. I think staying close to home was best for me.”
She’s joining a program whose coaches know her well, too.
Sacred Heart head coach Matt Micros and assistant coach Scott McBride are both affiliated with the Connecticut Football Club.
Kells has played for CFC since she was 13 years old.
Coaches are not allowed to comment on recruits until after they have received their official Letter of Intent.
“I just love them so much,” Kells said of the pair. “I’ve been playing for them for three years and they are a big reason why I’m able to go play in college. I grew up playing for them and they’ve made me so much better.”
Kells said she had opportunities to play at area private schools like St. Joseph or Notre Dame-Fairfield but wanted to stay at Bunnell so she could make a difference.
“I had the options to go, but playing for Bunnell, what made it so important was being able to come out and play for them and make a difference,” Kells said. “I wanted to help Bunnell be a team that you shouldn’t look down on.”
After making states as a freshman, where Kells scored three goals in two postseason games, the Bulldogs didn’t make it again until this season.
“Olivia was a type of player that gave us an opportunity to win and be successful in every game she played,” Bunnell coach Sebastian Wojdaszka said. “She was dangerous, creative, and could take players on. She provided the offense, but also, she able to make her teammates better all around. She will definitely be missed.”
Kells helped Bunnell win four of its last six games to pick up the final playoff spot.
The Bulldogs traveled to Mercy, losing by a 4-1 score on a cold, windy day.
Still, it was a day Kells and her teammates won’t forget.
“It was freezing, oh my gosh, but it was a great opportunity,” she said. “It’s like the best feeling to know you have one more game and get to play in a state tournament. I really think getting to do that really brought a lot of happiness to our team.”
Kells grew up in a soccer-loving family and would often be out in the yard playing the game with her older brother, Alex, who never went easy on her.
“He really is probably one of the biggest coaches I’ve had in my life and he inspired me the most,” Olivia said. “He worked me so hard and would have me out there shooting the ball and dribbling. Honestly, I really think that set the foundation for me.”
She joined the Stratford United program and played in town—many times on boys’ teams—up until she was 13 when she joined CFC.
“I think playing with boys, sometimes older than me, that’s really where I got my aggressiveness from,” she said.
Kells wants to be a nurse in the future, which was another draw for the school, as Sacred Heart has a highly rated nursing program.
She knows the demands of such a program, and of being a Division 1 athlete won’t be easier for her.
“I’ve always wanted to help people and care for people and Sacred Heart’s nursing program is phenomenal,” Kells said. “I’ve thought a lot about (the commitment to both programs) but I’ve been working so hard to get here, I’ll just work even harder.”
Doing so close to home will at least help take off some of the pressure.
“I’m really excited to go there and start a new journey,” Kells said. “I’m so thankful to everybody at Bunnell, who has been there and supported me.”
Kells is the first Bunnell girls soccer player to go Division 1 since Ashley Mocarski became a goalkeeper, also at Sacred Heart, in 2002.
Prior to that, Meghan Cepetelli (Class of 1995) had played at Holy Cross.
On the boys side, four players from Bunnell’s 2011 state championship team went on to play D-1 soccer, including Zach Zurita (Central Connecticut), Freddy Metellus (Central Connecticut), Justin Lewis (Fairfield) and Chris Carneiro (Sacred Heart).
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