Recognized as one of the top players in Southwest Florida, Marco Island Academy goalie Kirra Polley made her college choice official this week, signing to play for NCAA Division II Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Florida.
A large group of well-wishers, including current and former coaches, teammates, and community supporters, gathered at the Champagne Pavilion at Marco Island Academy on Wednesday, January 25, to watch Polley sign her letter of intent.
“I’m really proud of the young woman you’ve become,” MIA principal Melissa Scott told Polley. “You’re an amazing student and person.”
Polley fielded offers from colleges in Oregon, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Georgia.
“I had five offers originally,” Kirra Polley said, “and only one of them was in Florida. My original goal was to get out of state. I decided to go to Nova because it’s closer to home. All my teammates from my club team are over there – it’s like family. The same goalkeeper coach I’ve had since my freshman year is at Nova, too. I think it will be a great environment for me to thrive in. I think I can take my game to the next level.”
Polley was in middle school when her coach, Jim Watt, suggested a change that helped to shape her future.
“We needed a goalie,” Jim Watt recalls. “She was a defender at heart. She didn’t know where she wanted to be. I said, ‘Kirra, I’d like to try you in the net.’ At first, she kind of resisted a little bit. Then she got ahold of it and really took off. It became her life.”
“I was a field player when I first came here,” Polley concurred. “Coach Watt put me in the goal and I haven’t looked back since.”
Watt liked Polley’s scrappiness and instinctively knew she could handle the demanding goalie position.
“She was just athletic, and she didn’t mind diving on the ground,” Watt said. “She played on our 3-V-3 soccer team. It was all boys and her. She was very tough and very aggressive. Kirra jumped right in there and was playing with the boys – banging with them. That’s why I thought she could manage that position. Now she’s going to college as a goalie.”
Darrin Palumbo was Polley’s coach last year during MIA’s magical 18-3 season. He knew her as a youngster in the Optimist league. He was surprised when her saw her again several years later.
“The standing joke with Kirra and I is that when she showed up as a freshman, she grew up so much I didn’t recognize her,” Darrin Palumbo said. “And this is a girl I knew well. Who I coached. I introduced myself to her. It took me about 10 minutes to recognize her. I was her assistant coach for two years at the high school. Then when I took over as the head coach, I can tell you, Kirra was a godsend. She had talented teammates; it’s a talented bunch of girls who come through this school. But my philosophy is to always build a team from the goalie forward. With Kirra, I knew we had the chance to win any game. Evidenced by huge wins over big schools: 1-0 against Lely. 1-0 against Barron Collier. Two wins against Community School. We had good defense, but she was the base foundation. For us, some games it was get a goal and lock them down.”
Palumbo felt that Polley was the best player around, even as a junior.
“I’ve always said if I had to draft one player in our whole district, I would take Kirra first. Then after we played in regionals last year, I said, ‘If I had one draft pick in the regionals, in the whole region, I would pick Kirra.’ She was the best goalie in the regionals and beyond.”
The Rays raced to a 15-0 start under Palumbo during the 2019-2020 season. During that stretch, Polley allowed only three goals. MIA opponents scored only seven goals all season.
“I even took Kirra out of net and she scored 11-12 goals last year,” Palumbo said. ”She scored one while she was being a goalie. Her intangibles are phenomenal. But if I could say what I’m most proud of, it’s not the goals she scored being a part-time field player or the way she played net and kept us in games. It’s that she became a great team leader. As a captain she learned to lead them with love and to realize that not every player has the same athletic ability. You ask them to give all they can. She really embraced that. That was the biggest difference I noticed in her from her first two years to her last two years. That’s what I’m most proud of.”
Polley’s current coach at MIA, Matt Poland, appreciates the athlete he inherited.
Kirra’s an incredible player,” Matt Poland said. “She’s one of those players who gets it. She understands what hard work is. What competing every day is. What being a good teammate is. What leading by example is. Making your teammates better by being on the field. She gets that. I think that’s from all her hard work over the years. But I think it’s a testament to how good of a player she is and how much time she dedicates to her craft.”
Polley joins a Nova program that has had its share of success lately, advancing to the NCAA tournament five years in a row. In 2019 the Sharks won the South Region Championship.