By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Kassidy and Klaire Kirsch have always had a close connection.
The sisters are more like best friends than siblings.
They were both standout athletes at St. Thomas More High School in Rapid City, South Dakota. Klaire excelled on the basketball court, winning four consecutive Class A state titles, and Kassidy was a star on the soccer field, where she was MVP of the 2015 state championship match and the South Dakota Class A Player of the Year. They teamed up to win numerous state titles in track and field.
“Being a year apart, we have done literally everything together our entire lives,” said Klaire, 20, the younger of the two.
That almost changed after high school, when Kassidy decided to hang up her soccer cleats and attend South Dakota State University.
Her little sister was being recruited by a different school, one neither knew much about.
“I didn’t even know Kearney existed before I got recruited,” Klaire said. “This place was very foreign to me. I had no idea what Kearney was, where it was, who the Lopers were, what a Loper was, anything like that. I was just kind of clueless.”
University of Nebraska at Kearney women’s basketball coaches Carrie and Devin Eighmey were more than happy to fill her in. The dynamic wife-and-husband duo made an immediate impression on the 5-foot-11 guard.
“My coaches now are the exact same people they were when I was being recruited,” Klaire said. “They’re really passionate about helping us grow in every aspect of life. That’s something I saw in them early on.”
Klaire committed to UNK in August 2017, the summer before her senior year at St. Thomas More High School.
NO. 1 FANS
Craig Kirsch can be credited with the assist for getting his other daughter to UNK.
“When Klaire committed, our dad called me and said, ‘You have to come down to UNK. It’s the best school ever,’” Kassidy recalled. “He swears he didn’t have to open a single door. People were opening the door for him everywhere. He loved it.”
That Nebraska niceness and a longing to play soccer again convinced Kassidy to email Loper head coach Chloe Roberts, who agreed to give her a tryout. Kassidy made the trip to Kearney to practice with the team one month after her sister’s visit.
She, too, fell in love with the campus and the Loper athletic programs.
“I just loved the intensity and the culture on the soccer team, and Chloe is an amazing coach. She really sold me on UNK,” said Kassidy, who transferred from South Dakota State in spring 2018. “It’s the best decision I’ve ever made and I’m so happy that I’m still here.”
Of course, having her younger sister and best friend at the same school doesn’t hurt either. Kassidy got “the best of both worlds” when Klaire arrived on campus in fall 2018.
“I didn’t understand at the time what a big impact having Klaire here at Kearney would be. It’s just been way more than I could have ever imagined. It’s so much fun having her here,” said Kassidy, one of four players to start all 18 matches for the UNK soccer team in 2019.
The 5-foot-5 forward and team co-captain has appeared in 35 matches with 28 starts during her Loper career, recording two goals and an assist.
Klaire, an honorable mention all-conference selection in 2019-20, also appreciates the support she receives from her sister.
“I think there was a part of me that was excited to go off and do my own thing, but I’m really happy that part of me kind of died out, because I could not imagine going to school without Kass,” she said. “I always know I’m going to have a No. 1 fan in the stands, and that’s huge for me.”
The situation works out equally well for their parents, Craig and Trisha, who are quite familiar with the 7-hour drive from Rapid City to Kearney.
“When they come for soccer games they get to sit in the stands with Klaire, and when they come for basketball games they get to sit in the stands with me. It’s like a second home to all of us,” Kassidy said.
Craig and Trisha have watched Klaire put together two strong seasons in the blue and gold. She’s played in all 61 games, starting 59 of them, while averaging 7.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.6 steals per contest. Her career rebounding average is the fourth-highest in school history and she’s on pace to become just the fourth Loper to record 800 boards.
‘KLAIRE AND SISTERS SPEECH THERAPY’
Although the Kirsch sisters insist they’re not exactly alike – Kassidy is “very organized” and Klaire “just rolls with the punches” – the similarities definitely don’t end with athletics.
They’re both dean’s list students and two-time Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association Academic Honor Roll selections, and they’re also part of UNK’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
They even have the same major – communication disorders – and they’re members of the Kearney Student Speech Language Hearing Association, with Kassidy serving as the organization’s vice president. Another Kirsch sister, Kourtney, is currently pursuing a master’s degree in this area at the University of South Dakota.
“We’ve talked about the possibility of opening a clinic together for speech therapy,” Kassidy said.
“It would be called Klaire and Sisters Speech Therapy,” her younger sibling quickly replied, demonstrating the connection these two Lopers have.
UNK SOCCER SCRIMMAGE
The UNK women’s soccer team will play its “Blue/Gold” intrasquad scrimmage at 3 p.m. Saturday at Cope Stadium.
Gates open at 2 p.m. Fans get in free if they bring a canned food item or download the new UNK Athletics app on their smartphone. Food items will be donated to the Loper Pantry on campus.
Seating inside Cope Stadium will promote social distancing and face masks are required.