In the LSU soccer team’s 4-3-3 alignment, the center back becomes the field general whenever an opponent has the ball.

The way coach Brian Lee sees it, senior Kellie Murphy is uniquely qualified for the position.

Murphy not only has the right kind of experience and demeanor to lead, but the Lafayette native also has an inherent pride in the colors she wears and the state she represents.

“When we get a Louisiana kid who can contribute on the field and buys into the program and works to get better every day, by the time they’re a junior or senior, it’s almost inevitable that they’re a tremendous team leader,” Lee said. “They tend to bring the spirit of the Tiger.”

Lee has six players from Louisiana on this year’s team, but Murphy is the only returning starter among the six.

Murphy saw action as a key reserve her freshman year, progressed into a part-time starter her sophomore season and last year helped anchor one of the Southeastern Conference’s stingiest defenses while starting all 21 games. She enters her senior year as one of LSU’s four team captains.

“She’s a great kid who has really continued to get better ever since she got here, and I really think she’s poised for a fantastic senior season,” Lee said.

A three-time all-state selection at St. Thomas More, Murphy garnered Class 5A’s MVP Award after leading the Cougars to a 27-0-2 mark and a state championship her senior year. She set STM’s single-season school record with 43 goals as a sophomore, but suffered a torn ACL her junior year.

Despite the injury, LSU continued recruiting her.

“I always knew I wanted to play college soccer, and I wanted to play at a good school,” she said. “I was really excited when I got back from that injury and they were still interested.”

Murphy was equally excited when her sister, Danielle, signed with LSU last year after enjoying a stellar prep career of her own.

But their first year as college teammates, Kellie and Danielle were faced with obstacles away from soccer.

During a family vacation in South Africa for the FIFA World Cup, Kellie, her older sister Nicole and her younger brother Brian were walking back to their hotel after watching a game on TV at a local restaurant. A car struck the three of them on a pedestrian walkway, killing Nicole instantly and leaving Brian with major head trauma and other injuries. Kellie walked away with only a few scrapes on her face and a mild concussion.

Danielle was not with her siblings at the time of the accident, but was also on the trip.

“We were having the trip of a lifetime,” Kellie Murphy said. “It’s obviously sad for it to get ruined like that. It was an amazing thing at first.”

Kellie said that Brian Murphy, 20, is back in Lafayette living with her parents. He has issues with sort-term memory and trouble walking, Kellie said, but the family hopes he will make a full recovery.

“We really felt like it was our role as teammates and coaches and peers to give both Danielle and Kellie an outlet where they could come to practice and break a good sweat and try not to think about bigger things in life,” Lee said. “We wanted to let them enjoy themselves as much as they could through some physical exercise and use soccer as a release and a time to let your thoughts go and try to have some fun with competing every day.”

Kellie Murphy responded with her best college season, making a seamless transition from midfield to defense and anchoring a back line that helped LSU allow only 16 goals in 21 games.

As a team, though, the Tigers fell short.

LSU missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006 despite reaching the semifinals of the league tournament and failed to win the SEC West for the first time in four years.

Murphy sees better days ahead for her home-state program.

“When I look back at my freshman and sophomore years and how good the girls were then, we were really good,” Murphy said. “But I look at us now and we have such a different dynamic about us, I think we could be even better. Our chemistry is good, we all get along, and we have a lot of good players.”