The initial season of Dorian Bailey’s soccer career befell in 2002, when she was 5 years old, and the games unfolded much the way you would expect — the ball positioned in the middle of a scrum and kids surrounding it like bees swarming a hive.
As her teammates fought through the traffic for a chance to kick the ball, she stood alone outside the circle, hands on her knees, waiting for the ball to emerge.
“It was as if she was just watching and studying the game,” says her father, Bryan. “And the the next thing you knew, the ball would pop out, right where she had moved, and she would take it down the field and score.”
It happened often, too. Bailey scored nearly 60 goals in her first season, which has survived as some sort of folklore in the family.
A star in the making.
Thirteen years later, she is the reigning Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year, a North Carolina signee and a regular member of the U.S. Soccer youth national team system.
Her coaches still rave about the way she studies the game, and that intelligence has carried over to the classroom. She graduated from St. Teresa’s Academy last month with an average grade of better than 95 percent in her classes.
And now she can add one more accomplishment: The Star’s 2014-15 female Scholar-Athlete of the year.
Bailey’s affinity for soccer began at an early age, but her parents still signed her up for other sports.
She was actually a remarkable gymnast — and once told her mom, Lisa, that she wanted to be a Cirque du Soleil performer — until she quit when she was 10. The gymnastics coach cried as Bailey relayed the news.
A soccer career awaited.
A good one, too.
Bailey played on older-aged teams from the time she was in grade school, except for the season when she joined an all-male league. She held her own there, too.
She is a gifted technical player — one who prefers to play with the ball at her feet — and has an uncanny ability to read plays before they develop.
“The game runs in slow motion for her,” says her club coach, Huw Williams, who is also the technical director for FC Kansas City. “It underlines the fact that she’s such an intelligent player. She’s a half step ahead of other people in reading the game.”
That’s no coincidence, Bailey says.
“During games, I get into this zone,” she says. “It’s the most focused I am in any aspect of my life. I’m really focused on trying to read the game and anticipate everything.”
In four-plus years with the U.S. women’s youth national teams, Bailey has played every position except goalkeeper.
As St. Teresa’s approached the Missouri Class 4 semifinals earlier this month, one of its key players fell ill before the game. As a result, coach Jeremy McElduff feared he would be missing one of his starting centerbacks.
The solution? Ask Bailey.
With Bailey shifted to defense, the Stars shut out St. Joseph’s Academy of St. Louis, the top-ranked team in the nation. A day later, Bailey moved to the midfield and helped St. Teresa’s win the Missouri Class 4 state title.
“There were games when she would play all three lines — defense, midfield and forward — in the same game,” McElduff said. “That takes a special player. It takes someone who is strong mentally and someone who’s willing to make a change for the (betterment) of the team.
“That’s Dorian Bailey.”
Shortly after the success of Bailey’s first soccer season, her father ordered a goal for the backyard, along with a backdrop net to protect the neighbor’s ceramic animals from errant shots. He later went to a carpet store and bought a sheet of Astroturf to cover the floor in their unfinished basement.
Bailey played nearly every day in some fashion, though her training style was unique.
“When she was little, she would go outside by herself and practice the same move for hours,” Lisa says. “I once asked her what she was doing and she told me she had broken one move down into eight steps. If she did those eight steps, then the whole thing was completed.
“I think she was 5 or 6.”
A self-described perfectionist, Bailey had an analytical, do-it-yourself way of learning new tricks on the soccer field.
Her schoolwork required the same approach.
Bailey missed more than 100 days of high school in the last four years while traveling with the youth national teams. Most recently, she attended out-of-state camps with the U.S. Under-19 and Under-20 national teams.
She took exams before she departed, sometimes before all the material for it had been covered. She made up projects after she returned, despite missing the in-class instructions.
“The school was always great about helping me out, but there were a lot of things I just had to teach myself,” Bailey said.
It never showed on her grade-point average.
“At the end of her junior year, she joked with me that she didn’t know if she needed to go to school anymore. She could do it all online,” Lisa says, laughing. “I didn’t really have a comeback for that.”
Two days after winning the Missouri Class 4 state championship, Bailey sat in front of her living room TV and flipped on the Women’s World Cup.
Dressed in a United States jersey — presented to her during one of her camps with the youth national teams — Bailey watched the Americans defeat Australia 3-1.
A motivator, she says.
On Tuesday, Bailey will depart for North Carolina, joining a program that has won 21 national titles since 1982. She isn’t sure what her major will be, and she understands her professional career isn’t likely to include soccer.
Or will it?
“I was watching the game and thinking (that) I want to be out there,” Bailey said. “I could see myself out there in the next few years. If that could happen, that would be the ultimate dream.”
ST. TERESA’S ACADEMY
She graduated with an average grade of better than 95 percent in her classes. Led St. Teresa’s to the Missouri Class 4 girls soccer state title and was 2014 Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year and NSCAA High School All-American. She has competed in soccer tournaments all over the world. Current member of the U.S. Under-20 women’s national team. Participated in Science Club, Care Club and Rotary Interact Club. Member of Student Community Organization Club and was a school senior ambassador.
College: North Carolina
Also nominated: Leigh Campbell, Ann Campbell