NORMAL — After years playing second fiddle for Normal Community High School's powerhouse girls soccer program, this spring was Caelyn Steffens' chance to shine.
The all-stater hit all the right notes while providing 30 goals and 18 assists, both team highs, for a 20-5-2 Intercity championship squad that reached the Elite Eight in Class 3A.
For those reasons and more the Wisconsin-Platteville recruit has been named the Pantagraph Female Soccer Player of the Year.
"We had (Memphis-recruit) Lizzie Woerner her freshman year and (Mississippi-bound) Alyssa Frazier her freshman through junior year," remembers Coach Matt Chapman. "Those are some amazing Division I players.
"So Caelyn's role was always to be our secondary scorer or secondary assist person. She always had a very strong attacking role from the moment she stepped on the field for us, but we didn't rely on her to do everything until this season."
The four-year starter responded by scoring in 20 of her team's 27 games to finish with 88 career goals and 57 assists for squads that went a combined 78-17-6.
"This season, she was also a marked person," Chapman said. "A lot of defenses were geared toward trying to stop her. She stepped it up and made it very difficult for teams to do so."
Looking back on her time in the shadows, Steffens wouldn't change a thing.
"I just like to be one of the other players ... just enjoy my time out there," said the humble star.
The Iron notched 20 shutouts courtesy of a strong defense, but the Steffens-led offense helped by dominating time of possession. She opened the season at striker, but became an attacking center midfielder by midseason.
"When we made that move, she really bolstered our defense because we had battled some injuries in the back line," Chapman said. "She would be everywhere. She would win a ton of balls in the midfield."
When trying to protect a one-goal lead, Chapman could call on Steffens to become a fifth back-line defender.
"It would make a difference," he said. "It would be a huge confidence boost for the people around her. Her teammates knew how much they could count on her."
Chapman is struck by how many of Steffens' goals weren't just lead-extenders, they mattered. Two such goals came in a 4-2 win over Peoria Notre Dame after the Iron had opened the season with nine consecutive shutouts.
"Peoria Notre Dame scored first and also took another lead after we tied it," Chapman said. "There was a little bit of a mentality check there for our team. 'How are we going to respond to this?'
"Caelyn just put us on her shoulders. Everyone was kind of in shock for a moment. She was like, 'I've got it. Don't worry. We're good.'"
NCHS asked Steffens to take penalty kicks and free kicks within scoring range. On free kicks from long range and corner kicks, she was the target teammate Maggie Peters tried to feed.
In 2017, Steffens spent six games in goal to fill in for injured teammates.
"Her standard answer was, 'Whatever the team needs, I'll do,'" Chapman said. "It's very admirable."
Steffens also played guard for the Iron's 23-7 basketball team.
"Both are teamwork sports," she says. "It also helped from the conditioning part. When I came from basketball season, I was in shape."
Steffens credits her hard-nosed style to having three brothers. Her oldest brother, Caleb, also played soccer.
"I would always go and watch him," she said. "Looking up to him, he would help me throughout the years. He'd tell me if I needed to work on something."
Steffens, who will study physical therapy, played for the Illinois Fire Juniors travel team, which placed second in a national tournament last summer.
"It helped me improve a lot playing against such good competition," said Steffens, who also credits Chapman for bringing out her best.
"I've never had a dull moment playing for him. He's helped me grow so much as a player and a person. He's always believed in me."
He also saw a second fiddle capable of much more.