Going into the 2023 season, Bryn Athyn women’s soccer head coach Bill O’Neill knew he was going to need to fill a hole in his attack with the departure of 28-goal scorer Ashley Rivera.
What he didn’t know was that a sophomore would nearly match Rivera’s goal output on her own.
That sophomore was Kira Bradley, who like Rivera a year earlier finished the season near the top of the NCAA Division III scoring charts just a goal shy of Rivera’s total in 2022.
“She’s a great finisher,” O’Neill said. “You know if you just watch her practice she strikes the ball really well. She’s very calm and just composed in the box and on the ball.”
O’Neill first noticed Bradley playing as a center back for her high school team at Neshaminy High School. She also played for a Hulmeville SC Hotshots team that was an Eastern Pennsylvania Presidents Cup finalist in 2019.
“She's been such a versatile player, you know, we've never put on the backline but we've had her in the midfield and we've had her up top as well,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill said the team struggled early in the season to score goals so he moved Bradley closer to the goal. She responded with a slew of goals. After scoring three goals over the first four games she racked up 16 goals over a five-game span, including scoring five goals in a game twice: at Notre Dame at Maryland and Keystone College at home.
“Switching positions to striker led me to be able to contribute more to the team but I was also a lot more confident in myself and the team really helped,” Bradley said. “Everyone had a part in everything and we were just really connected.”
Bradley went from chipping in 8 goals and 4 assists in 17 games in 2022 to 27 goals and 11 assists in 17 games in 2023. She finished the year third in the nation in goals and in the top 15 in assists.
With the increase in output, Bradley had to also deal with the challenge of getting more attention from opposing defenders.
“It definitely got harder throughout the season because once I started scoring more teams would put two people around me and surround me,” Bradley said. “But I knew I couldn’t let it get into my head and just needed to stay confident in myself and remain calm.”
O’Neill, a former Eastern Pennsylvania ODP coach who won a national title as a player at Rowan University, said the extra attention gave Bradley a chance to show herself as more than a one-dimensional goal-scorer.
“The best part about her is she’s not just a goal scorer,” O’Neill said. “You could put her anywhere on the field, her soccer IQ is really good and her composure on the ball is great. She also led the league in assists too, which is pretty awesome.”
The attention off the field with player of the week mentions and her name appearing on the NCAA website didn’t phase her, O’Neill said.
“She’s so humble,” O’Neill said. “And very coachable.”
A Levittown native, Bradley says playing close to home has been one of the perks of playing at Bryn Athyn. Family and friends are regularly in the stands and a lot of her teammates are local. Eighteen of the 21 players on the roster this fall are from Eastern Pennsylvania.
“It’s great to be playing where my family and friends can come to the games,” Bradley said. “And a lot of the other players have family in the area too. It really contributes to the positive environment.”
Playing close to home also has given Bradley a chance to go back to Hulmeville SC, where she’s helped out with the 4-year-old group.
“I love to go back and see everybody and I still talk to a lot of the people who were on my team,” Bradley said.
Bryn Athyn came up short in the United East Conference Championship in 2023 after winning it and securing a bid into the NCAA tournament a year ago. They finished with a 13-3-1 overall record, an upbeaten 8-0-1 record in conference play and landed three players on the all-conference first team. Bradley along with juniors Maria Storck (Philadelphia, Pa.) and Shea Gormley (Huntington Valley, Pa.) received first-team honors. Four other players on the team received all-conference honors on the second and third team.
“It was a definitely a good feeling to be recognized not just for me but for the team,” Bradley said. “It’s great to see a small school like ours getting recognition and I’m just happy to be part of such a talented group.”
With the season over, Bradley is dedicated to putting in the work for next season and continuing her studies in sports management and finance while also playing on the school’s lacrosse team. With a core group back, the hope is to continue to put her small school’s program on the national soccer map.
“The goal is to get further, to win the conference championship and get past the first round of the NCAAs next season,” Bradley said.