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Peters, Poppen pose problems for Central soccer foes

Aberdeen Central’s Kailyn Poppen, left and Deshani Peters, right, catch their breath as they wait for a free kick during a match against Sioux Falls Roosevelt earlier this season at Brownell Activities Complex. Photo by John Davis taken 9/5/2023

When facing the Aberdeen Central girls’ soccer team, opponents have to pick their poison on the pitch. The Golden Eagles feature a dynamic senior duo in Deshani Peters and Kailyn Poppen.

The teammates share a chemistry seldom seen, with each seemingly knowing what the other is thinking nearly all the time.

“They put a lot of time in together and really are in synch on movements of where they’re going and where they want the ball to be played,” said Central coach Merle Aske. “They do a really good job of reading each other and reading what needs to happen.”

Peters and Poppen have been double trouble for foes for most of their soccer lives. They were teammates on past club squads that won two national championships and also finished runner-up once.

Each has learned where the other will be and where she is likely heading.

“It’s like we just understand each other. We just have that connection since we’ve been playing for so long together,” Peters said. “We just know where each other is going to be at. We just know where they want that pass. It’s just something different that we have than what I have with anybody else.”

Poppen said it’s almost as if the two players can read each other’s minds, because nothing needs to be said or gestured during the course of a contest.

“We’ve never really had to tell each other where we want the ball or where we’re going to run,” Poppen said. “We just kind of predict what’s going to happen.”

Aberdeen Central’s Kailyn Poppen, sets to kick the ball on a corner kick during a match earlier this season at the Brownell Activities Complex. Photo by John Davis taken 9/26/2023

While the players have different skill sets, they share much more in common than they do apart.

Both have impeccable footwork that allows them to break down opposing defenses.

“They’ve worked really hard on getting their ball control where it needs to be. They both put in a lot of time in studying film and doing things the right way. They just do a good job,” Aske said. “They’ve always been fairly athletic. They do such a good job of working on their skills even in the off season and making sure they’re ready to go.”

The duo is especially dangerous when it comes to corner kicks and both are a threat to score from anywhere on the pitch, albeit in maybe different ways.

“Kailyn is a little more finesse and Deshani is a little more power from outside. They both really know how to put the ball on frame,” Aske said. “A lot of that just comes down to working and building that technical skill knowing where to hit the ball and how to hit it to make sure that it’s going in the right spot.”

Of course what makes it even tougher to defend both standouts is the fact that they know, almost without looking, where to find the other.

“That’s probably my favorite thing about playing with Deshani,” Poppen said of that familiarity. “When she’s not in her normal spot, I’m kind of lost and don’t know where to play to other girls. When she’s there, I have a good feeling that the next play will develop the way I want it to.”

Again, there is no verbal communication needed when it comes to Peters and Poppen.

“For us, as soon as we receive that ball we know where each other is at,” Peters said. “I know where Kailyn is at and she knows where I am at whenever I receive the ball. It’s just like instincts to just get it there.”

Peters, who twice had four goals in a game this season, draws a crowd whenever she has the ball, but usually finds a way to get around opposing defenses.

“There really is no stopping her from making the plays that she wants to,” Poppen said. “She just gets more and more creative every single time.”

The Peters and Poppen connection features both admiration and competition. Each is the other’s biggest fan, but also stiffest opposition in practice.

Aberdeen Central’s Deshani Peters, center, sets to kick the ball on goal as Yankton’s Aubrie Lloyd, left, Chloe Foote, behind Peters and Remy Kusel, far right, close in on defense during last Tuesday’s opening round playoff match at the Brownell Activities Complex. Behind Lloyd is the Gazelles’ Tessa Gillies. Peters scored one of her four goals in the match on the kick. Photo by John Davis taken 10/3/2023

“It’s honestly a lot of fun,” Peters said. “We both know that we’re competing for the same thing, but then we are both so happy for each other when we do something good.”

And they also make each other better.

“Deshani and I have kind of also been each other’s biggest rivals growing up,” Poppen said. “It’s always been us playing together, but also us against each other, so we push each other to be better players. It’s always a challenge going against each other and it makes both of us better.”

There is no doubt that they both make the Golden Eagles better. As Central headed into a shootout in Saturday’s playoff game against Spearfish, it was Peters and then Poppen who nailed the team’s first two penalty kicks to put the Eagles in control.

“Deshani and I both got really excited when it went to a shootout,” Poppen said, “because we were both exhausted from playing for 100 minutes.”

Once there, Peters and Poppen wasted no time finding the back of the net to help the Eagles advance to Tuesday’s semifinal game in Mitchell.

“Penalty kicks is mainly just about your confidence,” Peters said. “If you know you can make that goal, you’re going to make it. If you think too much about it, you’re not going to make it.”

Central has nine seniors on the team this season and Aske has had to replace talented players in the past once they graduate. However, it could be a real challenge duplicating the one-of-a-kind chemistry of the Peters-Poppen duo.

“That’s kind of the way it is every year,” Aske said of having to replace experienced players, “but this is big senior group and they’re a big part of it.”

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