Clarksville, Ark.-At first glance, Kiara Henry, with her soft-spoken demeanor and effortless, engaging smile, doesn't appear to be one of the most competitive and accomplished student-athletes on the University of the Ozarks campus. But that's exactly what she is.
Henry is a three-year starting goalkeeper for the women's soccer team heading into her senior season this fall. The three-time all-conference performer is already one of the top players in program history and will lead the Eagles in their quest to return to postseason play this year for the first time since 2015.
"Kiara is a great team player and has been the backbone of our team for the past three years," said Eagles Coach Natalie Dreyer. "She wants the best for her team, and will do whatever it takes to make sure she is putting the team before herself. Her teammates look up to her because of her selfless attitude and passion for the game."
Henry, a former standout at Rogers (AR) High School, was inserted into the starting lineup in the fourth match of her freshman season at Ozarks and promptly led the Eagles to victories in two of the next three matches, including a 1-0 shutout of conference-foe McMurry. Since then, she has started 47 consecutive matches in-goal for Ozarks, compiling an impressive 1.60 goals-against average, the best in program history.
Dreyer said it's a combination of attributes that makes Henry one of the top keepers in the region.
"She has great athleticism, work-rate, footwork and the ability to read the game," Dreyer said. "As a goalkeeper, athleticism will take you a long way, but not many people are willing to dive in front of a driven ball or a foot to make sure the ball doesn't go into the back of the net. The goalkeeping position is one of the most important positions on the field. Her agility and technical footwork have also helped mold her into the goalkeeper she is."
Henry said she has had to overcome some personality traits in order to shine in-goal for the Eagles.
"When I first got here, I was really nervous and shy," Henry said. "When I'm nervous and shy, I tend not to talk at all and talking is very important in my sport. I can see everything on the field, so communicating with my teammates is vital. As a freshman, I did not talk at all, and during my junior year I was talking a lot more, but I still think I can improve on that. I also think that I have improved on coming off of my line quicker. At first I was nervous about taking those chances, but now I trust my instincts more."
Her coaches and teammates say there is another side to Henry that many people don't see.
"Kiara may come off shy to those who have just met her or don't know her, but don't let her fool you," Dreyer said. "In the locker room, she is the life of the party, always having to get a dance party going before we head to the field. She also has a very humble heart, and doesn't like to show attention to her accolades."
Dreyer said Henry is constantly asking for feedback and looking for ways to improve her game.
"She is extremely coachable," Dreyer said. "Over the past three years, it's been great to watch her mature, both on and off the field. Specifically, on the field she has made improvements every year. Coming in as a freshman she was a little timid, but she quickly grew out of her shell a few games into the season. Her strength has also improved, which helped her make saves that she didn't make her freshman year. On the technical side, she has put in the extra work to improve her hands and her fundamentals. Getting repetitions is a huge part of her training, and it has helped her improve in every aspect of the game."
Henry began playing soccer at age 5 because she had an older brother who played. She began playing competitively at age 8 and quickly fell in love with the sport. As a standout at Rogers High School, she had numerous college options, but found Ozarks was the right fit.
"I came to Ozarks twice on recruiting trips," Henry said. "The first time I visited the University, I really liked the smaller classrooms because I work better in smaller groups. The second time I came was for a soccer camp. I really enjoyed being able to play with the team and how close the team was. That's why I came to Ozarks."
The health science major said a high school knee injury led her to choosing a career path.
"I tore my ACL in high school and I had to go through physical therapy, so I know what it feels like to not be able to play your favorite sport for a long period of time," Henry said. "When I was finally released to do everything, I was so excited to get back to playing soccer. That's why I chose health science as my major. I want to bring that kind of joy to other people."
Henry, whose 14 career wins in-goal and 8.3 career shutouts are both second-best in program history, made honorable mention all-conference as a freshman, second-team all-conference as a sophomore and third-team all-conference last year. Her goals for herself and the Eagles are higher this year.
"As a team, our main goal is to go to the conference tournament," Henry said. "My personal goal is to make first-team all-conference this year. I think if we have success as a team, the personal accomplishments will come, so we're focused on the team goals."
By Larry Isch, Director of Public and Media Relations