With one arm raised, index finger fully extended, the Central Kitsap girls soccer team hushed and rose before Thursdays 9-0 win against Bremerton. But this arm, demanding respect from the team during warm-ups and on the field, isn’t connected to any coach. This arm belongs to Kaitlin Poppe, demonstrating the respect afforded her by her teammates. Poppe, Cougars midfielder and co-captain, may not get the spotlight, but is perhaps the most important leader on the field for CK.

“She just plays hard,” CK coach Vicky Webb said. “She’s one of the unsung players on this team. The players that get the recognition are either the forwards scoring a lot or the keeper. But she does all the dirty work.”

Poppe, a senior at Central Kitsap (5-3-0, 4-2-0), has been battling in the trenches for CK for each of her four years with the team. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“She is just a real trooper,” Webb said. “Some kids are like that. She’ll be out there sweating and dirty. Her socks are falling down. She’s one like that. You just know she’s giving it her all.”

Poppe said she’s been playing organized soccer for 12 years, but has kicked a soccer ball around since she was in kindergarten. She started out just wanting to be another one of the kids, she said.

“My older brother played and all our neighbors played,” Poppe said. “I just wanted to be one of them. I just enjoy it.”

Now, Poppe said the best part about the game is the relationships the team builds. She also said it helps them improve.

“I just like the girls,” Poppe said. “They’re just fun. They make soccer fun. When something is fun, you want to do your very best.”

When talking to Poppe, it’s hard to tell she can exude the ferociousness on the field that has earned her reputation as one of CK’s field generals. But when watching her play, or even during warm-ups, you can see her modest smile disappear, replaced by a straight-faced, all-business attitude.

Teammate and co-captain Caitlin Verhofstadt said Poppe’s intensity is recognized by everyone on the team. In addition to playing together for each of their four years at CK, they’ve also been teammates on a select club team.

“Even when the whole team has a bad game, she doesn’t,” Verhofstadt said. “She’s always giving 100 percent and more each game. Other players can feel her intensity.”

Webb agreed, saying there’s no length Poppe wouldn’t go to to help the team.

“She has a lot of charisma,” Webb said. “She is a real up front person. She is a very quiet, determined, focused player. On the field, she’ll give you everything she has. Even if she gets hurt.”

In fact, Webb said that resilience is sometimes her only downside. She said even when Poppe gets banged up, she’ll get up on her own. As a result, Webb said her most memorable moment with Poppe hasn’t even happened yet.

“Every time she ends up on the ground, she always gets back up,” Webb said. “She won’t let us get her off the field. If she’s down, she was hit pretty hard. Right when I’m about to set a foot on the field, she sucks it up. If I ever have to get her off the field, that would be the most memorable moment.”

Poppe, who also excels in school, taking a host of advanced placement classes, said school is probably what will keep her out of competitive soccer at the collegiate level. Even know, she has soccer practice or games for one of her teams seven days a week. She said she does plan to play intramural however.

“I have practice for (CK) everyday,” Poppe said. “We practice with Select two days a week, and then game days. I pretty much have soccer seven days a week. School is very important to me. It’s part of the reason why I won’t play (soccer) later.”

Webb said she remembers the team holding a fund-raiser with the West Sound Saints football team on a Sunday. Although Webb tried to help Poppe in using Sundays as a homework day, Poppe still showed up to lend a hand.

“I told her, ‘We’re fine, go home and rest,’” Webb said. “Besides, that’s her. That’s just who she is.”

Verhofstadt said one of the most noticeable things about Poppe’s game often earns her some light teasing from the rest of the team.

“Sometimes she has a weird way of controlling the ball,” Verhofstadt said. “I can’t even describe it. We try to get her to show us, but she says she just does it. We tease her about it, but she always ends up with the ball.”

As for the team this season, Poppe said she is pleased with the way the team has played for the most part. But she said she knows they’ll have to do better to reach the next level.

“We’ve played well, but when we’ve needed to step up we didn’t,” Poppe said, indicating their 4-0 loss to Gig Harbor as the prime example. “But we’re a good team. We’ll step up at the end of the season.”

Poppe said she thinks the have a good shot at going far in the playoffs, especially because they got their first taste last year, advancing to districts. The moment was also her best soccer memory.

“I think for me it was last year when we got to districts,” Poppe said. “That was the first time we’ve been to the playoffs in a while. Now that the whole team has been there, we want to go back. We’re definitely motivated.”

And with Poppe at the helm, the leadership is definitely there to help them make their move.

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