Manhattan Beach player Kimby Keever jumps feet first into the world of professional soccer

How a local coach inspired the “Little Lion.”

  • Category
    People
  • Written & Photographed by
    Kat Monk

When Mandi Clemens, a Hermann Trophy recipient from Santa Clara University, made the decision to pursue a graduate degree at Loyola Marymount University, she also started coaching a local club team of 9-year-old girls. An enthusiastic Mandi was all about the fun of the game. One eager young player took notice of this infectious energy and went all in.

Kimberly Keever, nicknamed Kimby by her sister who couldn’t pronounce “r,” is quite possibly the only player from AYSO Region 18 to make it to the professional level. Region 18 comprises the Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach areas and ranked in the top five regions in the United States with almost 3,500 players. Three million kids play youth soccer nationally a year, and few of them go on to play collegiately. Even fewer play professionally.

Kimby, now age 23, has a very vivid memory of her early years. “Mandi was so passionate about soccer, and the thing that stood out the most for me was that she just wanted to have fun,” she remembers. “It wasn’t about the competition or winning it all—it was about fun and games. As a 9-year-old, that really stuck with me.”

“As I am remembering her, I smile thinking how little she was—not only by years but height and weight. She was on the more petite side—definitely strong but petite—and yet on the soccer field, she played like a lion.”

Mandi also has very fond memories of her enthusiastic young prodigy. “I knew Kimby was going to be a very special player. I felt so grateful to have her on my team versus an opponent’s team,” she says. “I had a strong sense that she had all the qualities—physically, technically and mentally—to compete at a very high level, if that’s what she wanted to do.”

Kimby excelled as a forward in her youth club seasons. Eric Knudson, a local dad and AYSO soccer coach, recalls, “She played against my GU 12 AYSO State Championship All Star team in 2007 and scored or assisted on every goal against us, and we lost 5-1 in a scrimmage! Her club team was good and competitive with us, but she was the difference and played at another level.”

“As I am remembering her, I smile thinking how little she was—not only by years but height and weight,” says Mandi. “She was on the more petite side—definitely strong but petite—and yet on the soccer field, she played like a lion. [Kimby grew to 5’5”.] She played so big. She was fierce and competitive. She hated losing.”

Though Kimby played a serious game, she still considered soccer a fun outlet. “Her competitive spirit and willingness to put her whole body on the line to make a tackle or win a ball back just tickled me, seeing it as her coach,” says Mandi. “She’s every coach’s dream. Kimby wanted to learn; she was a team player, and she had a very positive attitude.”

Kimby soon became sister Caroline’s role model. In high school the two sisters finally had an opportunity to play together—although playing with your role model can be intimidating. Caroline remembers, “We were playing Redondo, and it was a big game and it was tied. I made a run up the sideline. I Hail-Mary’d it in for a cross, and it came back to me and I scored.”

Kimby very excitedly ran to her sister first and gave her a huge hug. “I was really scared of playing with Kimby, and her critique would mean the most to me. She was always pushing me to be my best. The fact that she came up to me and hugged me was very rewarding.” Caroline now plays soccer at Gonzaga University in Washington.

Susannah Muno, Kimby’s childhood friend and also a stellar athlete in her own right playing indoor volleyball at UCLA and beach volleyball, always looked up to her childhood friend. “Even though we were the same age, Kimby had a work ethic and determination that nobody else on the field had at the time. The girl could get knocked down 100 times and would always get right back up.”

After high school, the speedy forward went on to play for the Washington Huskies. Kimby was named second-team ALL-Pac 12 (2014-2016) and third-team All-Pac 12 in her senior season—finishing her career with 22 goals and four assists over 78 career games.

The National Women’s Soccer League was formed in 2012, and Kimby was drafted 12th overall for the Houston Dash in 2018. Originally Kimby was seeing playing time in her usual position as a forward and scored in her National Women’s Soccer League debut against the Chicago Red Stars.

The Dash coach, Vera Pauw, has since moved Kimby to a defensive role. Kimby will need to work incredibly hard to excel in this new position, but everyone—including her first coach, Mandi—has the confidence that she will adapt to her new role just fine.

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