Wearing the number 13 might seem unlucky for other people, but for Kelsey Baker, it's her favorite.

A numbers game

The only number Punahou's
Kelsey Baker cares about at
the end of the season is 1

The number 13 may have a history all its own, but that doesn't bother Punahou defensive standout Kelsey Baker, who wears it proudly.

"A lot of people think it's unlucky, but it's my favorite number," she said. "It brings me luck.

"During the state tournament (last season) especially, I listened to the same songs on the route (to the gym) every day. And I wore the same socks throughout the tournament. I never washed them. I'm actually very superstitious."

Whatever Baker's pregame rituals are, they need not be changed.

Her commanding presence figures to be one of several keys for the Punahou girls soccer team this season as it looks to successfully defend its state championship.

The Buffanblu open their Interscholastic League of Honolulu regular season Jan. 3 against St. Francis.

In addition to Baker, Punahou also welcomes back seasoned veterans in senior goalkeeper Allison Lipsher, senior midfielder Allison Tsuchida, and junior midfielders Ashley Collins and Rachael Lau. Along with Baker, Collins and Lau have been on the Punahou varsity team since their freshman year.

Over time, Baker's role has expanded to that of Punahou coach Jorge Barbosa's coach on the field. Baker's assertive nature makes her perhaps ideally suited to a leadership role.

"I'm a really outgoing and loud person," she said. "That kind of carries onto the field. I've always been like a leader because of my position on the field -- I have to talk. Sometimes I get a little too intense and I yell at my teammates. I've tried to work on that and, for the most part, they're really understanding about that.

Baker has been playing soccer since she was 5.

"I play hard. I've heard people say that I'm a dirty player, but I just try and go hard and give it all that I have," she continued. "I'm focused on winning. I'm probably not as intense off of the field as I am on -- I'm just more passionate about soccer than other things. I hope to play soccer in college. It's been a goal since I was little."

Said Barbosa: "She's very vocal at times. It upsets some of the players because she can be overzealous, but I have no problem with it. She's intense. She'll run through things if she has to. She's committed. It's hard to describe. Once the game starts, forget about it. She's going to get it done.

"She definitely manages our defense," added Barbosa, whose team lost seven players to graduation at the end of last season. "Without her, we're different. We saw proof of that when she went to San Diego over the Thanksgiving holidays and our defense kind of suffered when we played without her. It becomes more obvious when she's not there."

For Baker, declaring an interest in soccer early in life was only natural. Her mother, Lauren, ran a store called "Soccerama" for a time and still plays in a women's soccer league here on Oahu.

"When she was pregnant with me, she still played, so I kind of just grew up around soccer," she said. "Everyone plays soccer when they're really little, but only the people who really like it continue. I've always really liked it. When I was 8, I got more serious about it."

By the age of 8, Kelsey had already been playing the sport for three years. She thinks she gets a lot of her competitive flair from her mom.

"My father (Ted) comments every day on how I'm becoming more and more like my mom," she said with a laugh. "My mom is full Korean ... kind of stubborn with a hot-headed temper. I'm exactly like her in that sense. I have a really hot temper, which is part of my intensity on the field."

These days, soccer is practically year-round for Baker. Following this season, she will likely hear more from college recruiters, as NCAA guidelines limit recruiters' contact with potential recruits until they have completed their junior seasons.

When Punahou's season ends, Baker plays club soccer with Leahi. Her search for perfection in her game is ongoing, and it fuels her determination.

"People have told me that I'm good, but I have low self-confidence when it comes to my playing abilities," she admitted. "I put pressure on myself -- I never think I'm doing a good enough job. Soccer takes up a lot of my free time, but it's something I love to do."

Punahou is 7-1 in the preseason (the Buffanblu's only setback came to Kamehameha 2-0) and has outscored its opponents 36-4. As the defending state champions, Baker and the Buffanblu are already used to getting the opposition's best effort every time out.

"We're going to have a really tough season this year," she said. "The ILH is very competitive. Whoever wins the ILH should have a very good chance of winning the state. It's kind of an uphill battle, but it's something we'll have to work through. I think we can do it."


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