Late in their recent Border War battle against Missouri, the Kansas Jayhawks faced a goal deficit for the second time in the game. In a different season, forward Hallie Klanke thinks they wouldn’t have been able to come back. But in a different season, Klanke wasn’t around.
Back on the pitch after two seasons spent rehabbing hamstring and ACL injuries, Klanke took the game into her own hands, cutting off the right flank into open space to receive a pass and slotted a rocket into the Missouri goal with just minutes to play. The goal brought the Jayhawks level and earned them a draw on the day.
“This group is so resilient,” the redshirt senior said. “There was 100% belief of we're going to come back and try to tie or win this game.”
KU coach Mark Francis took Klanke’s assessment even further, saying that resilience was "probably the number one reason" that KU opened the season without a loss in its first seven games.
Klanke’s game-tying goal against Missouri marked her third on the year, to go with five assists, key contributions that helped lead to Kansas’ undefeated start through six games. Her fast start has caught attention across the country, and TopDrawerSoccer has included her on their national team of the week for two weeks straight, first as an honorable mention, then in the team proper.
While the accolades are nice, Klanke insists she’s focused on the work, something that Francis said has been a feature since she came to Lawrence.
“Hallie leads by example from a work ethic standpoint,” he said.
Having the time to recover from an injury doesn’t mean the recovery will go well.
“She's come back (from her ACL tear) at a higher level because she's worked extremely hard," Francis added. "She really brings that competitiveness to the group and that can become contagious.”
With a stretch of five straight road games underway, Klanke and the Jayhawks will be put to the test. And they will be looking to their leader up front to continue to set the standard.
Klanke has been setting and reaching goals for most of her life. At age eight (10 if her LinkedIn is to be believed), she decided she would play soccer for the University of North Carolina. She told herself that “It's that or it's failure.”
Klanke met her goal, joining the Tar Heels for the 2019-2020 season. But after graduating from UNC with three years of eligibility remaining and just two years of mostly bench appearances behind her, the Lee's Summit, Missouri native transferred closer to home to Kansas for the 2022 spring semester.
Unlike her 2023 season, Klanke’s start at KU was rocky. On her first day playing with the Jayhawks, she tore her ACL. The timetable for her return was uncertain.
“There was a lot of hope that I would make it back in time to get to a little bit of conference (play) or the (conference) tournament,” she recalled.
While she didn’t make it back to the field until this year’s season opener at Wisconsin, Klanke still had a role to play last year as she acclimated to her new team.
“We did have a lot of injuries on our team (last season)," she recalled. "But I was the first person (injured), so I was at the forefront of everything.”
Now healthy and back on the pitch, Klanke’s family and local community have been able to see her play for the first time in years. She shares postgame dinners with family, and has even signed an NIL deal with Sporting Kansas City connections that make this homecoming and return to the field that much more sweet.
Though the move is an aberration from her plan — “if you would have asked me going out of high school and you told me, in four years, I would be here I would have said you're crazy” — Klanke has enjoyed her homecoming, and sees a world of potential in Lawrence, both for herself and for her team.
After opening their road trip with a draw at Kansas City last week, the Jayhawks (3-1-4) lost for the first time at Washington State on Sunday.
“It's a great test for us,” Klanke said ahead of the match. “We want to be pushed, we want to grow.”
Francis agreed, and suggested that Klanke’s fans set their expectations as high as hers.
“We’ve still got more to see from Hallie," he said. "I don't think she's by any means hit a ceiling yet for this season.”
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