There was once a time Lexi Watts didn’t care much for soccer.
During games, she would throw herself down on the pitch and start crying. Her dad — who doubled as her coach — would ultimately have to substitute Watts’ younger sister into the game as Watts pleaded with him to let her quit.
“He would never let me,” Watts said, laughing as she thought back to her 7-year-old self. “He was super intense. I hated having him as a coach. But he pushed me a lot.”
A sport that once brought a pool of tears now has Watts suiting up for the Jayhawks as a one of the team’s top forwards. She admittedly loves the game these days.
Watts is coming off a freshman season with KU where she was named to the Big 12 all-Freshman team. After entering her freshman season nervous and lacking confidence, Watts found her footing and scored six goals — the most by a Kansas freshman since 2012 — to go along with three assists and 15 points.
Coach Mark Francis said he watched Watts improve with every game.
“By the end of the season, she was a dominant force for us offensively and caused a lot of problems for other teams,” Francis said.
Picking Kansas was never a sure thing for Watts.
She was born in California, but moved to nearby Lenexa when she was five. She spent years throwing herself on the field, crying, begging to quit the game until she was 12 when she joined a new team with a new coach.
Her coach told her she wouldn’t make first team and was relegated to second team. That motivated her to get better, and by the time she reached high school she was already getting scholarship offers. She figured when it came to college she would move as far from home as possible.
Her parents urged her to consider Kansas.
Her friends would be close by. Her family could come to all her home games — Lenexa is only 40 minutes from Rock Chalk Park where the Jayhawks play. Would staying that close to home really be that bad, she wondered.
She committed to KU as a freshman in high school.
Now an incoming sophomore, Watts has engrained herself as a carefree player who’s earned reputation as a jokester on the team.
“My teammates would say I’m the goofy, weird one,” she said, a beaming smile and laughter following her words.
She’s eager to put the lessons learned as a freshman to use this season.
For one, she’s more confident and ready to attack as one of the team’s leading scorers. Last season, she said, she hesitated too much, which affected her and the team. She thinks she can double her goals scored from her total of six last season.
She’s also eyeing the calendar with a specific game circled: Aug. 24 vs. Vanderbilt at home. She’ll be facing her sister, Sydney, who’s a freshman.
The two have had a healthy rivalry on the pitch for years now. As sisters, their games have plenty of similarities.
They’re both forwards. They both wear No. 18. They both like to have fun, yet be serious when the situation calls for it.
And then there’s their differences.
The game comes easier for Sydney, who Watts said “can shoot from anywhere on the field and it goes in.” For Watts, well, “I have to work so hard.”
“It’s just so fun playing against her,” Watts said. “We get along so well. We’re best friends. That said, I hope we win.”
— For tickets to all KU athletic events, visit kutickets.com