Hawkeye players reflect on their soccer journeys

The world’s game is often seen as an introductory sport in the United States. For the women of Iowa’s soccer team, the beautiful game is more than that.


Hannah Kinson

Iowa defender Riley Whitaker throws the ball during a soccer game between Iowa and Illinois on Sept. 26, 2019 at the Iowa Soccer Complex. The Hawkeyes defeated the Fighting Illini, 3-1.

Ben Palya, Sports Reporter

Long considered the world’s game, with a countless number of fans and players that reach nearly every corner of the globe, soccer isn’t the same wide attraction in U.S. But the game is gaining momentum stateside.

For many in the U.S., playing soccer is just a one-time experience at a young age. Some players on Iowa’s women’s soccer team had similar experiences when first playing soccer, not knowing all the memories and incredible moments they would gain along the way.

“I think I started playing soccer when I was around five,” junior Riley Whitaker said. “It was just a thing where my mom signed me up for a bunch of sports to try out and see which ones I liked, and I just stuck with soccer.”

The consistently fast pace of play was something that intrigued Whitaker at a young age. Unlike many, she took the sport seriously in her youth, focusing solely on soccer as opposed to slower activities such as softball and dance.

Goalkeeper Monica Wilhelm was trying to be like her older brother when she started playing. But by the time her brother settled on hockey, Wilhelm was already hooked on soccer.

“I wanted to be like him, so I started playing soccer, and I just stuck with it and it has changed my life ever since,” she said.

Wilhelm did ballet for a few years before she started playing soccer, but she decided that the sport for her and stuck with it. Everything from the team dynamic to the enjoyment of just kicking the ball around has made it impossible for her to think about quitting.

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“I’ve been someone my whole life I’ve just loved to practice,” Wilhelm said. “Anytime I could play with a ball would make me happy, whether it was practice, a game or kicking around with friends.”

Playing soccer in college is not for everyone, but for Whitaker, it was something she had wanted to do since she was little. As a younger player on her club team, she was inspired by those who kept playing at the college level. From there, Whitaker’s motivation blossomed.Wilhelm said she wants to be a role model that young soccer players can look up to.

“I’ve always wanted to be someone else’s inspiration as well,” she said. “When you play at a higher level, younger kids look up to you. So, I’ve always wanted to be that role model for younger kids to chase their goals and dreams.”

Both players’ journeys in soccer have given them plenty of memories. Whether it was winning big games or being able to travel overseas and play at camps, their parents’ decisions to enroll them in soccer and see what happens have more than paid off.

Iowa City is the perfect place for players to continue their adventures both on and off the field and has been the place where many more great memories have been made.

For junior Hailey Rydberg, making the NCAA tournament last season was one of the best parts of being a Hawkeye so far.

Said Rydberg: “Just seeing the look on everyone’s faces was awesome and it was just something I have never been a part of before — and seeing how happy the coaches were — it was just awesome.”

For most athletes, their time with Iowa soccer will effectively cap their careers. However, the memories they’ve made will last a lifetime.

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