When Lake Dallas senior Karina De Paoli walked into the girls soccer program as a freshman, she was not sure what the future would hold.
Becoming a varsity player right away seemed crazy. So did becoming a four-year varsity starter for a program that now sits at the top of the pedestal.
But here she is, accomplishing those feats three years ago and helping set the standard of what the Lady Falcons program would be three years later when her high school soccer career came to a close prematurely become of the UIL’s announcement to cancel the rest of the season amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I did not expect to be a freshman, four-year starter,” De Paoli said. “That was the craziest thing, getting on varsity, a little freshman, coming into varsity all scared. It was great.”
Although her final year of high school came to an end without a chance to compete in the postseason, there is a lot that De Paoli and Lake Dallas can hang their hats on.
Coming into her senior year, De Paoli and the fellow seniors wanted to right the wrongs from the year prior. After missing out on a playoff berth as juniors, they were simply not going to let that happen again and end their careers without achieving greatness when it was all said and done.
“Our first goal is to get into the playoffs,” De Paoli said back in February. “We also want to get district, win district, district champs. That would be a really big deal for us, us being like a small school, everyone wouldn’t expect that.”
Check on both of those goals.
Lake Dallas was declared the District 8-5A champion with a 9-2-0 mark and just one game remaining in the regular season following the closure of schools and sports for the remainder of the academic year. And before that district crown, Lake Dallas also secured a postseason berth for the first time since 2016 – also the first time in De Paoli’s high school days.
“This year was definitely the best year by far,” De Paoli said. “We accomplished so much already.”
With De Paoli’s talents and innate scoring ability on display for much of the year, she and Lake Dallas were able to make those ambitions possible.
But early on in the season before district play rolled around, De Paoli wasn’t quite finding the net on a consistent basis like she would shortly thereafter. Head coach Nathan Davis knew she was working hard to try to put the ball in the back of the net, but he told her to let the game come to her, to stay patient and that the opportunities will come.
“I said, ‘Just let it play its way out. You’re going to be fine. You’re going to get yours. You’ve just got to wait. You’ve just got to let it come to you, and when the opportunity arises, strike,’” Davis said.
The goals surely did for De Paoli, who signed with Division I program Arkansas-Little Rock back at a National Signing Day ceremony in February.
Seven of De Paoli’s eight goals this season came against 8-5A foes – tied for the second-most on the roster – while adding three of her four total assists of the campaign during that span.
“That’s the way it’s happened in district,” Davis said. “She started to roll off a lot more opportunities and take more chances when given the opportunity without trying to force it, so I think her confidence built as that started to happen.”
When the goals weren’t going and when they were, De Paoli’s versatility and leadership were always there and guiding the way for a Lady Falcons bunch that made drastic improvements from 2019 to 2020.
De Paoli could play anywhere they needed her, she could step in there and make the transition look seamless.
Add in her leadership, and that made it that much more of an advantage for Lake Dallas on and off the field. Davis said she was like having another coach out there, remembering a time early in the season when they were in a certain formation and she asked if they could switch to another formation she thought might be more effective.
All of that leadership, scoring and character helped De Paoli to the next level of soccer and also boosted the Lady Falcons in their pursuit to a first-place mark, signifying just how much they accomplished what they set out to do all along.
“It’s her work ethic,” Davis said. “She shows up every day. She has a great attitude. She is definitely an extension of the coach on the field.”
Although her prep days may not have ended with a chance to make a deep postseason run, she and Lake Dallas understand all that they accomplished together over these last four years. When talking with her fellow seniors, she said the conversations were emotional when looking back at what they were able to go together.
Soon, De Paoli will make a similar impact when she heads off to play collegiate soccer at a school where she felt right at home and at a place where she was the first verbal commit of the 2020 class.
But she will come back to her roots, cherishing her time as a Falcon and seeing what success the program endures in the future.
“It just meant togetherness,” De Paoli said. “Honestly, we were so close. Like every year has taught me a different lesson. All of it came together at the end. Everyone is so close.”