Subscribe for $3 for three months

A dead-of-winter futsal tournament was exactly the type of setting where St. Louis University women’s soccer coach Katie Shields would expect All-American defender Alli Klug to unleash her competitive nature.

Playing 4 vs. 4 as a fun, offseason drill, Klug was placed on a team that included backup goalkeeper Kasey Hartmann, among others.

“Alli was organizing her team and just barked at Kasey for an hour,” Shields said. “And if anyone broke through, she would slide tackle in the gym to make sure they couldn’t score. She’s relentless getting the most out of everyone around her.

“It can be hard for young kids to come in and have Alli barking at them, but it’s pushed our competitive level. She gets on everybody. Alli just wants to win.”

Klug’s team was probably not the most talented that day, Shields conceded, but it won the tournament. That’s how you play on a snowy, February day when your goal is to win consecutive Atlantic 10 championships.

Shields loves that about Klug.

The Nerinx Hall product will be a key piece to the Billikens 2019 season after playing every minute in every game except one as a junior.

She spent the summer taking classes, including gross anatomy for her physical therapy major, will take a family vacation to Michigan and hopes to return relaxed but, her coach hopes, with the same intensity.

“I look at my freshman year and how the seniors had an impact on me,” Klug said. “That’s how we became successful is from the people before me demanding a lot. So, you have to demand more of others. My teammates know I demand a lot and they know because I verbalize it to them. But the tone you use and your body language are all very important.”

Playing time and words are things that are not in short supply for the effervescent Klug.

The center back is part of a defense that has allowed 24 goals in 43 games over the last two seasons as the Billikens posted a record of 33-7-3. She was named the A-10 defensive player of the year in 2017 and 2018.

Klug has combined her interest in physical therapy and pursuit of ever-better conditioning to become the rock of that unit. She won a strength and conditioning award at SLU as a sophomore.

The 5-foot-6 senior was not a highly recruited player in high school and wanted to go to a school farther from home. She had no expectations for playing time as a freshman and recalled being thrilled when she learned she would travel to a road game.

So, when Shields told her after her sophomore season that she was named a third-team All-American by the United Soccer Coaches, Klug didn’t know what to make of that.

“I didn’t even know what an All-American award was, which is funny,” she said. “I remember her telling me and I said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s so great.’ But I didn’t know how big an award it was. Then I got to the ceremony and it was like this big old thing.”

Klug followed that with second-team honors as a junior, when the Billikens won the A-10 and reached the NCAA Tournament.

She never had played center back before arriving at SLU but found herself on the Missouri Athletic Club’s Hermann Trophy watch list last season. She was the only player in the A-10 to earn that honor.

Although not a goal scorer — she had five as a sophomore and none as a junior — Shields valued Klug’s experience enough that she asked her at midseason in 2018 to be part of SLU’s penalty kick unit in the event a game was decided that way.

Klug was hesitant and expressed a lack of confidence.

“I told her I wanted her to take penalty kicks because she doesn’t fatigue, so she’s going to have the legs to do it,” Shields said. “And I wanted one of the most competitive players. I told her to figure it out in the next few weeks. There were days I gave the team off and she needed rest, but she was on the field taking penalty kicks. Before the conference tournament, she came to me and said, ‘I’m ready now.’”

Klug, however, is content to do her work on defense and in the leadership department.

After playing on a club team last summer, she focused on academics this offseason. She has participated in workouts with teammates but does much of her training by herself. The weight room is a second home and she focuses her running on massive repetitions of sprints rather than distance running.

She wants to be in midseason shape when the Billikens convene for their first practice Aug. 6 with the knowledge that she is not going to leave the field often once the season starts Aug. 22 with a game at Notre Dame.

“It’s more fun to be in shape and I’ve taken that to heart,” she said. “I just like running around, so when we’re outside practicing I just keep running. And I like to make sure everyone else is fit because I like having a fit team.”

Stu Durando is the SLU beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.