Iowa soccer defender Olivia Hellweg grows from walk-on to starter

The senior defender joined the Hawkeye soccer program last-minute in 2018 and took on a starting position this season.


Grace Smith

Iowa midfielder, Olivia Hellweg, and Penn State forward, Ellie Wheeler, fight for the ball during the Iowa women’s soccer match v. Penn State at the Iowa Soccer Complex on Thursday, March 25, 2021. The Nittany Lions defeated the Hawkeyes 1-0.

Isaac Goffin, Sports Reporter

Iowa soccer senior defender Olivia Hellweg originally planned on attending the University of Iowa for business — not soccer.

Hellweg decided to enroll in the Tippie College of Business after she was directly admitted to the school to start in the fall 2018. But she went back and forth on if she wanted to continue her soccer career past high school.

Before her senior season at Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School, her coach spoke to her about walking on to the Iowa soccer program.

Hellweg got in contact with Hawkeye soccer head coach Dave DiIanni, and he offered her a walk-on spot in late spring 2018.

Fast forward to fall 2021, and Hellweg is the Hawkeyes’ starter at right back.

“It was such a last-minute decision to play here,” Hellweg said. “I’ve never been so grateful that I did, and have had the amazing people around me, past upperclassmen and the people now, it’s just been an amazing experience.”

When the marketing and business analytics major first stepped out onto the pitch in the fall 2018, she competed as a center midfielder. Hellweg started three matches and scored one goal in her freshman season.

Her sophomore year, she transitioned to a center defender. The position changes continued into her junior season, when she began playing right back and holding midfielder while also maintaining minutes at center midfielder.

As a right back, Hellweg provides the right touch for passes into the midfield while defending opposing players out wide.

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DiIanni said the 5-foot-8 senior has always possessed a strong technical soccer IQ. He added that Hellweg became more consistent as a defender while she got comfortable with the speed of play in collegiate soccer and investment in training for the sport.

“I think, since I’ve played so many different positions throughout the four years, that does bring something different to me playing right back now,” Hellweg said. “Because I’ve had experience in the center back, which is right next to me, and the center mid, which is right in front of me. That’s definitely helped out — knowing other positions to be able to play this position.”

As a veteran on the squad, Hellweg leads by example. She comes off as shy, but her teammates know that’s not all there is to her.

“Once you get to know her and open up, she is super outgoing — really likes joking around,” senior midfielder Hailey Rydberg, Hellweg’s roommate, said. “She always has that personality that can make you laugh, and she’s just a great teammate and a great friend. You know that she’s always going to be there for you cheering you on and just picking you up when you’re having a bad day.”

When the fall 2021 season concludes in November, it will mark the end of Hellweg’s soccer career — she had thought would happen in spring 2018.

But she jumped at the opportunity to suit up in the Black and Gold for four years, setting an example for her underclassmen teammates.

“She’s somebody that you hope all of your players resemble,” DiIanni said, “that they get better in their four years, they’re hungry and love the game of soccer, and they graduate playing the best soccer of their career.”

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