KIRTLAND — Kirtland Central's Nikki Begay makes scoring goals look so effortless that it's hard to tell how much pressure she feels to shoulder her team's scoring load in every match.
With two games left in the regular season, Begay has already found the back of the net 15 times. Those 15 goals are the most by anyone in District 1-5A, and the 11th most in the entire class.
Kirtland Central has a very youthful roster in 2016, as Begay is one of only five seniors. She said the learning curve has been fairly steep for a lot of her younger teammates to adjust to the speed of varsity game play.
"It was frustrating at first because we have a younger team, and it was hard for them to adjust to how fast a varsity game is actually played," Begay said. "I think that as we're headed toward the end of the season they finally get it and they're a little more comfortable, and it's a lot easier to work with them than it was."
While her teammates were adjusting, the Lady Broncos (7-10, 3-5) had games to win, which means they had goals to score, and that responsibility has fallen mostly on Begay's shoulders. Her 15 goals account for more than half of KC's team total, which currently sits at 27.
She said she definitely feels pressure to score every time she steps on the field, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"Usually I can hear the fans go 'Take it in yourself, score, we need you to score!'" Begay said. "And with that in my mind, I try to get a game plan together on what I'm gonna do when I get the ball and while I have the ball."
KC Coach Chad Kimball said it's hard to detect whether Begay feels pressure or not by the way she plays.
"She's just a gamer. You can't see the pressure really getting to her at all," Kimball said. "She always performs — the higher level of pressure in a game, the better she gets."
Junior Christine Young, the Broncos second-leading scorer, went down with a knee injury last week and is questionable to return this season. Young went down in Tuesday's game against Miyamura, at which time all eyes locked onto Begay.
Time was running out in that match and the score was tied 1-1 when Kimball told Begay, who had already scored once in the game, that she needed to make something happen.
"We were really struggling both offensively and defensively. We had girls in positions they hadn't had much experience at," Kimball said. "So I looked at her with about 10 minutes in the game and I said, 'You need to score another goal,' and sure enough, she was able to convert. So, that's just the kind of player she is."
Her goal was the game winner.
Begay, a fifth-year varsity player, also recalled KC's defense being dicey that game, so much so that she originally planned to drop back on defense late in that first half.
But she and her coach realized it was more important to be aggressive at that point.
"When we got the breakthrough, the (Miyamura) girl got called for a handball and that was our chance," Begay said. "We got the penalty kick and I took it and scored it."
In a 5-0 win over Rehoboth Christian on Saturday, Begay said she came into the game feeling good, and it showed when she scored a hat trick, her third of the season. For Begay, it has literally paid to score those three-goal hat tricks this year.
"My dad has this bet with me going that if I score a hat trick I get $50, so that's one thing I'm always going for," Begay said. "I also visualize me scoring and I memorize what their defensive formations are going to be like so I know where to attack. And it's kind of like, in that one, I really, really wanted it."
With that type of cerebral approach, it's no wonder Begay is at the top of her district in the goal-scoring category. Kimball said there's a lot that Begay, one of his team captains, does correctly on the field.
"She's got all the tools necessary to be a quality soccer player, I think even in college," Kimball said. "She's got speed, she's got technical ability and she's also got all those intangibles that you look for."
Speaking of college, Begay said that of the three sports she plays at KC High School — soccer, softball and basketball — soccer is her favorite, and though she's yet to receive an offer to continue play at the next level, she said her plan is to try and walk on to the soccer program of whichever college she attends.
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.
A closer look: Nikki Begay
1. Favorite team?
2. Favorite athlete?
3. Favorite food?
"Buffalo Wild Wings."
4. Favorite thing to watch on Netflix?
"Law & Order."
5. Favorite subject in school?
6. Least favorite subject?
7. Biggest fear?
"Losing my family."
8. Do you play any other sports?
"Basketball and softball."
9. What is the first thing you would do with $1 million?
"Give some to my family and use the rest for college."
10. Do you have any pre-game rituals?
"Listen to music and pray."