Kiana Kelii made the most of a unique playing opportunity
Kiana Kelii recently returned from her third international lacrosse tournament. This time, it was a group of NCAA Division II players from across the country and she served as an attack on the team USA Athletes International program (USAAI) at the four-team Down Under Cup played in Melbourne, Australia June 1-13.
Kelii, a 2014 Bloomington Jefferson graduate, has represented the US on teams touring Germany and Canada while a member of the Minnesota Lakers Select program, making this her first truly national US team.
The newly formed team only had a two-hour training session to get acclimated to each other in Australia before opening with an 11-8 loss to Australia. The Americans regrouped for a successful 15-4 win over Hong Kong and finished the pool play with a 6-4 comeback win over New Zealand. A rematch with New Zealand in the finals didn’t go well for the US squad as they lost 8-7.
“We were not playing well as a team in the first half,” Kelii said after contributing four goals and four assists in the tournament. “We were very flustered and losing the head-to-head match ups.”
Motivated by a strong halftime message from their coach, Kelii and her teammates scored five quick goals to get back into the game. Kelii converted an 8-meter shot beating the goalie with a shot to the lower right corner. She added two more assists after the goal on the big run but it wasn’t enough in the end. She also had a hat trick against Hong Kong.
Kelii said the tournament hosts found themselves in the third place game instead of their perennial spot in the championship game and on top of the podium in recent years. Australia was made up of the best lacrosse players in the country regardless of age from 13-to-32. “It was kind of hard,” Kelii said of knowing how intense to play against the opposition. “They were practicing as at team for weeks and months, too.”
After the four-day tournament, the team toured Melbourne before traveling to Brisbane for more sightseeing along the gold coast.
The tour wasn’t free and Kelii raised funds by selling trip t-shirts with lacrosse sticks and koala’s and starting a campaign on GoFundMe in addition to loans. USAAI offers several international tours for several sports. Other lacrosse teams went to Czech Republic and Scotland.
Kelii played for Colorado State University-Pueblo as a freshman in 2015, tallying 15 goals on 18 points, starting 15 of 16 games. She captained the Thunderwolves to a 4-12 overall record in 2014 and were 1-5 in their first season as members of Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
Kelii was nominated to participate in the tournament while at Pueblo.
She transferred to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs in time for the fall semester in 2015 but the junior international business major had to sit out one season due to transfer rules. She will help UCCS enter into its first season in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference next spring, making it the second program she’s helped through the process of joining a new conference.
“Now I’m one of the oldest players on the team. I know what to anticipate having gone through the experience,” she said, adding the team has a verbal commitment from a Prior Lake player for the 2017 season.
The transition from high school to college was a big one for Kelii. “It’s a world of difference,” she said as many college players come from high school programs where they were the focus on the offense. “Everyone at the DII level is at the same level. The person next to you is just as good so you have to change your mind set. You have other people who can work with you instead of doing all the work yourself.”
Kelii said she was more excited about the chance to be able to lean on teammates to generate scoring chances or cause turnovers. “It’s tough for freshmen coming in,” she noted.
Looking past her playing days, Kelii started down the coaching route while sitting out her transfer season. She’s coached at various youth levels in the past but was a junior varsity coach at a local high school last spring.
“It’s totally different to play and to be on the sideline,” she said, coaching at Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado Springs, Coloardo. “You can see what you want to change (but cannot).” That progression from the first practice to the end of the season was transformative for Kelii.
“It was great to see them progress and to be honest, I couldn’t have made any more best friends on the team. They were all great and coaching high schoolers was a transition but I loved them all. They did amazing,” Kelii said as they went 13-1.
Contact Jason Olson at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @MNSunSports or @SunSportsJason.