Michigan soccer commit Burrell wants ‘to be fearless’


Image courtesy of Kali Burrell

Senior soccer player Kali Burrell has had one goal embedded in her mind for as long as she can remember: play at the collegiate level. Now, committed to the University of Michigan, Burrell has soared far above expectations and overcome a plethora of obstacles to reach this point in her athletic career. 

“It’s crazy. As a younger soccer player, I wanted to get here, and just being here now, I know all the hard work that I put into it has paid off,” Burrell reflects.

After years spent consistently prioritizing soccer over other commitments and attending practices nearly every day, Burrell’s dedication to the sport is clear. In the end though, the satisfaction of achieving her goals made it all worthwhile.

“I’ve pushed myself so hard to get to playing collegiately that I can’t stop now. It’s ingrained in me: my hard work, my dedication and the sacrifices that I made,” Burrell explains. “It’s all just part of who I am now because I’ve trained myself that way for the past seven years.”

While clearly devoted to the sport, playing a season amid COVID-19 restrictions threw everything off for Burrell. Mentally, she wasn’t in the right headspace, and, in turn, this took a toll on her athletic performance. 

It wasn’t until her coach gave her a book, The Mind Game by Steve Bull, that Burrell was brought a newfound sense of clarity. In explaining different ways to develop mental toughness, the book helped put Burrell’s soccer career back on the right track.

“Your mental state is as important as your physical state in soccer,” Burrell elaborates. “So, if they’re both strong, then you’re going to be a very strong player. But if you’re not there mentally, it’s going to be hard—you might be inconsistent.”

Despite being one of ETHS’ most successful athletes, Burrell has never competed for Evanston Township. By playing exclusively for her club, Chicago FC United, Burrell has been able to stay with the same support system for the entirety of her soccer career—leaving her in the best position to make it Division I. 

“At club, it felt like I had more people supporting me and wanting to help me get to the level that I wanted to be at, which was playing collegiate level soccer,” Burrell says. “So I wanted to stick with them throughout my whole journey rather than switching up who I was around just because it was working for me.”

Throughout her time on the team, Burrell has traveled across the country, competed in a slew of tournaments and even been selected by TopDrawerSoccer, a pre-professional soccer recruiting database and news organization, as a standout player on multiple occasions. 

Currently a captain of her team, Burrell has been able to use that expertise as a means to mentor younger athletes. Yet, as someone that was once in their shoes, Burrell regards it as simply doing what’s expected of her. 

“I looked up to a lot of older players, and so for me to be one of them, it’s just paying back what was given to me,” Burrell notes. “It was a huge part of who I am now as a player, and I want to help other, younger female athletes get to where they want to be.”

Although that guidance has primarily served to support younger soccer players, having such an important role on her team has presented Burrell with opportunities to develop skills outside of playing soccer.

“I used to not be able to look people in the eye and talk to them,” Burrell reflects. “But, being someone that people look up to or look to for help, you have to be there for them when they need it, so it’s matured me a lot.”

On top of her success on the field, Burrell has also excelled in the academic aspects of her time at ETHS. Going into the next four years of her life, Burrell hopes to pursue a degree in sports management—a field lacking female representation.

“You don’t see a lot of women in that field, but sports have been such a big part of my life. I can’t see my life without it in a certain aspect,” Burrell elaborates.

However, as more women rise into leadership roles within sports, Burrell feels reinforcement that she too can follow in their footsteps.  

“I feel it’s been empowering, seeing other women step up into leadership roles within the sports community, just because you don’t see a lot of it. Examples like the U.S. Women’s National Team fighting for equal pay or the CEO of DICK’s Sporting Goods [being] a female now,” Burrell explains. “Seeing how they’re rising and females are starting to step into those bigger roles, it’s making me feel like I have a chance.”

Former teammate and future Jackson State athlete Shalyn Pryor reflects on Burrell’s role on the team, as well as the bond they share together through the sport.

“Growing up with someone like Kali, where you’re friends on and off the field for that many years is truly amazing,” Pryor says. “On our team, she was one of our captains, and was always someone who knew how to have fun, but also how to get their game face on. I can’t wait to see the big things she does.”

Burrell echoes the experience Pryor has had. 

“My team has changed so much throughout the years that I’ve met a lot of new girls that want the same thing, which is playing collegiate level soccer or soccer after high school,” Burrell affirms. “We all come from different backgrounds, different home lives, but I feel like soccer was the one thing that we all had in common.”

Starting at Michigan—currently the ninth-ranked team in the NCAA—in the fall, Burrell will soon have to say goodbye to the familiarity of her club team. Nonetheless, with a renowned soccer program and an abundance of opportunities to come, Burrell has a lot to look forward to. 

“I’m excited to get on the field with better players that are more athletic than me, probably more skillful than me, but that’s what’s gonna help me grow into the player that I want to be,” Burrell states.

In the end, there’s really only one kind of player that Burrell strives to grow into over the next four years of her life. 

“I want to be fearless.”