Keely Hoopingarner Has Kicked Her Game Into High Gear at IU Kokomo
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Keely Hoopingarner started playing soccer when she was 6 years old, first in a recreational league, and then club soccer starting in fourth grade.
“Club soccer is how I learned to play the game, but in high school and college the sport gave me more of a community,” says Hoopingarner, who played at and graduated from Noblesville High School. For the last four years she has played at Indiana University Kokomo (IUK).
“In college especially, I had to learn to be there for other people more,” says Hoopingarner, who plays center forward. “It wasn’t just about soccer at that point. It’s the relationships you build with the players.”
Those relationships have grown strong because throughout the past four years, she has practiced with her team for two hours every day.
“We start at 6 a.m. when everyone is grumpy, so that’s fun,” she says with a chuckle. “But seriously, it taught me how to be on time to things. My coach was super strict on that, so now I’m 15 to 30 minutes early to everything.”
As an IUK soccer standout, Hoopingarner is ranked seventh in the nation in scoring, having crushed records at IUK. She’s scored 25 goals this season alone and completed hat tricks (scored three goals in one game) during the last two conference championship games of the season. She was awarded River States Conference Player of the Week twice during the season. In November she was awarded the River States Conference Player of the Year, All-Conference, as well as Offensive Player of the Year for the conference. Hoopingarner ended the season as the top goal scorer in the conference. She was also nominated twice throughout the season for National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Player of the Week honors.
Originally, Hoopingarner was committed to a college in Tennessee. A month prior to the school year, however, personal family issues made that transition unrealistic. One day her mom suggested she check out IUK. She emailed the coach that night and he expressed interest.
“Although this wasn’t my initial plan, I’m so glad I did it,” Hoopingarner says. There was, however, a wrinkle. Her freshman year was the inaugural year of IUK’s soccer team. Arriving as a freshman to a brand-new program added an element of stress as the team was starting from nothing.
“Usually when you come into a program, you have upperclassmen to look up to,” she says. “They have a culture that’s already been built and there’s a chemistry coming in. We started off as a team with no chemistry. No one knew one another, not even the coaches. We had to make that culture.”
And they did. Some of Hoopingarner’s teammates stayed all four years while others left. Along the way they had to make sure players were in line with what was expected, to establish the program they wanted. Not only did they achieve this, but they also became conference champions.
Hoopingarner says soccer has helped her learn how to find balance in her life. It has also given her a sense of community, showed her how to show up for other people, and motivated her to work hard for teammates. She says that’s precisely why the team was so successful this year. They competed at nationals in November of 2022, where they played the third-ranked team in the NAIA. Though IUK lost, it was a good opportunity to see the level they could reach.
“We’re a four-year-old team playing a team ranked third who has all this experience and all these coaches,” Hoopingarner says. “I was proud of what we did.”
Although Hoopingarner is a senior, she and her teammates are granted an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19.
While Hoopingarner, a environmental science major, may pursue coaching soccer at some point down the line, first she wants to attend graduate school. Since her Tennessee college plans never panned out, next year she hopes to travel out of state for grad school.
“My mom, sister and I go to North Carolina every summer and rent a cabin in the woods,” she says. “I’d love to live in the mountains somewhere. I’ve played soccer in the Vegas area, but I’ve not seen any of the parks there. I want to visit the national parks.”
In her free time, Hoopingarner enjoys painting, drawing and coloring. She also loves taking care of plants and preparing meals. She’s drawn to recipes that she refers to as “convenient cooking.”
“I want to know what’s the most convenient thing I can make,” she says. “Right now I’m really into sandwiches and salads – practical things. You need that in college.”