Kaylee Thaler had a noticeable limp as she headed to the sidelines during the Wesclin football team’s practice Wednesday afternoon.
Five days after making four straight extra point attempts in the Warriors’ 36-33 season-opening win over South Mac High School, Thaler was a spectator as her teammates continued to prepare for their Cahokia Conference game Friday with Red Bud.
“It’s just a hip flexor (strain),” Thaler said. “No, I didn’t get hit. I’ve been kicking too much. It’s just very sore. I’ll be ready to kick on Friday.”
The daughter of Mark and Kerri Thaler, of New Baden, Thaler is a versatile, three-sport athlete. She is also a member of the Wesclin girls basketball and soccer teams. In two years as the Warriors goalie, Thaler has recorded a 27-6-1 record with 18 shutouts.
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A soccer player since she was 5, Thaler first started playing football in flag football leagues and quickly developed a love for the sport. And so when she entered high school two years ago, the 16-year-old decided to try out for the high school team.
“I’m loving it. Coming out for the football team was the best decision of my life. It’s a wonderful experience, and it’s nice to have a chance to do something that you don’t ordinarily see girls do,” Thaler said. “At first I don’t think my parents were for it because they didn’t want to see me get hurt. I’m a girl, and that’s understandable.
“But after my first game, and when they saw what I could do, they were excited for me.”
Thaler also has the support of her teammates. As the only girl on the Warriors team, she is just another member of a cohesive group of athletes experiencing the thrill of competing in high school sports.
“We really don’t think about that fact we have a girl on the football team. We’re used to having her around,” Wesclin senior quarterback Josh DeMage said. “Kaylee has been here since I was a sophomore. She’s just part of the team.
“We don’t give her a tough time. She’s usually perfect with her kicks, so there’s no reason to.”
Other than the locker room situation where she has to wait before she comes in, there are no special accommodations that we make for Kaylee.
Ric Johns, Wesclin head football coach
The 6-foot Thaler converted 18 extra points in the 2016 season and made a 33-yard field goal in the Warriors’ Week 8 loss. She has converted a 40-yard field goal in practice.
With her perfect night against South Mac already in the books, Thaler’s junior year is off to a good start.
“I’ve played soccer for many years, and being a goalie, I’ve had a lot of goal kicks. It’s just a different ball. I think a lot of the success comes from practice. I’ve really kicked a lot,” Thaler said. “At practice, I’ll kick into the net or go down to the other end of the field and just kick.”
Thaler’s presence in the Cahokia Conference has drawn some attention from opposing teams and players. But when she enters a game to attempt an extra point or field goal, Thaler is oblivious to any outside distractions.
“A couple of times there have been comments and a couple of games when they’ve introduced the players before the game there has been some stirring when they’ve announced me, but nothing bad has been said,” Thaler said. “There is just something about playing football and running out on the field. The adrenaline feeling you get is just hard to describe. There is really nothing like it.”
There is just something about playing football and running out on the field. The adrenaline feeling you get is just hard to describe. There is really nothing like it.
Kaylee Thaler, 16, Wesclin Warriors placekicker
Thaler is also the first female player coached by Warriors coach Ric Johns. A former coach at Belleville West, Johns said Thaler asks for and receives no special treatment.
“Other than the locker room situation, where she has to wait before she comes in, there are no special accommodations that we make for Kaylee,” Johns said. “She runs sprints with us, she lifts weights when we go to the weight room.
“She’s been with us for three years now, and she’s really shown a lot of improvement this year. I expect her to do something pretty special before long here.”
Thaler plans to play soccer at the college level, but should a chance to be a football placekicker come up, she would welcome the opportunity.
“That would be a dream come true,” Thaler said. “Right now, I’m just having fun playing football here at Wesclin. The other players on the team treat me the same as anybody else. That’s the way I want it.”