By Mason Nesbitt
For The Signal
After any given Master’s soccer game, Kayla Peterson will fish her phone out of her locker and find a text.
The message will be short and direct, and if it comes after a loss, it will offer a level of comfort: “It’s a bummer for right now, but it’s OK.”
The notes come from Peterson’s older brother, Cody, who falls under the high-functioning autistic umbrella, and they offer a window into the Petersons’ family dynamic.
Kayla, a senior defender, comes from a family where supporting each other was always the expectation — and athletics was the most-tangible avenue.
“I think that’s just the way our family works, it’s just that no matter what someone is doing you go and support them,” says Peterson, who has two older brothers, Alec and Cody, and an older sister, Jenna. “We’ve always been a family of, you support each other in what they’re doing and you go wherever it is for whatever they’re doing.”
Growing up, that meant attending Cody’s bowling tournaments in the fall, basketball games in the winter and soccer matches in the spring. Cody excelled in seemingly anything he tried, and he enjoyed a number of enviable experiences along the way.
One year, he played in the Special Olympics Unified Sports All-Star Soccer Match as part of the MLS All-Star Game activities. Another time, he traveled to Costa Rica to play in an international soccer tournament. Once, he trained with Wayne Rooney and Manchester United.
In every case, his siblings were hungry for updates.
“During those events, my kids are blowing up my cell phone for text updates,” says Kayla’s father, Mike, who along with his wife, Shelly, intentionally fostered a familial atmosphere of support from the get-go. “What’s the score? What position is he in? Who’s coaching him?”
Kayla preferred watching in person.
“It was fun to see him in his element, hanging out with his friends and introducing me to his friends,” she says. “Or he comes off and he’s like, ‘Ugh, I’m just really tired from that.’ So getting to hear his side of playing a sport was nice because he usually watches us and hears us talk about it.”
The experience also exposed Kayla and her family to a community they otherwise wouldn’t have known. The Petersons spent many afternoons volunteering at Special Olympics events.
“Once she gets on the field, the amount of love she pours out to these kids is amazing,” Mike says of Kayla’s work with Special Olympics. “They see that it’s genuine, and next thing you know, she has seven, eight, nine, 10 kids all hanging around her, hugging on her and pulling on her, just wanting to be around her.”
As a kid, Kayla also spent time traveling from her family’s home in Federal Way, Washington, three hours south to Portland for her sister Jenna’s home soccer games at Concordia University. Jenna was a three-time All-American and twice reached the NAIA national championship game.
Now a club coach and the mother of two, Jenna has returned the favor by lending an understanding ear.
“Sometimes I’m talking to Kayla and I’ve been like, ‘Have you given your older sister a call?,” Mike says. “‘I think she can give you some better thoughts.'”
Jenna watches Kayla’s games via the internet and, having also played defender in college, she sends an instructive text or two.
“Because she played, I get kind of the coaching side of things from her,” says Kayla, “like, ‘You should have done this or you did this well, but you should have done this.'”
How does the sisterly advice go over?
“I like it better than getting it from my dad because she actually played,” teased Kayla, who has developed into an exceptional player in her own right. She was an NAIA All-American in 2017 and has started at center back for the Mustangs almost since day one.
“I allowed three games before I started her because I was trying to solve the ‘Why is the freshman starting’ deal?” says Master’s head coach Curtis Lewis.
Peterson has since made 71 starts, earning a place on the All-Golden State Athletic Conference team three times, and last year she led the Mustangs to a program-record 10 shutouts.
This year, her role has been in flux. At times, Lewis has shifted Peterson to forward to take advantage of her speed and ability to pressure opposing defenses. That led to a message from Cody.
“Cody heard I was playing forward, and he’s like, ‘You don’t play that position, why are you there?'” Kayla says, laughing.
She’s adjusted just fine. Kayla has scored five goals, tied for second-most on the team. None was bigger than the one that came in the second half against Arizona Christian on Oct. 26. The Mustangs had trailed for most of the afternoon, but the tenor of the game changed when Lewis moved Peterson to attacker around the 65th minute. She scored the equalizer four minutes later, and the Mustangs won when Payton Williams knocked in the game-winner in the 87th minute.
Now, Master’s will host Menlo College in a GSAC quarterfinal on Saturday at 11 a.m.
The Mustangs earned the tournament’s No. 3 seed by beating Ottawa University Arizona, 3-2 over the weekend at home in the regular-season finale. Peterson had plenty of support during the morning’s senior day festivities. Family from three states was on hand, including all three of her siblings. Cody was especially excited. This time, a postgame text wasn’t necessary.