Iowa soccer’s Caroline Halonen adjusts to Division I play

After notching 28 goals and 17 assists over the course of her career at Division II Northern Michigan, Halonen made the move to Iowa for 2022-23.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

Iowa midfielder Caroline Halonen chases the ball down the field during a soccer game between Iowa and Northern Illinois at the University of Iowa Soccer Complex in Iowa City on Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. The Hawkeyes defeated the Huskies, 4-2.

Sam Knupp, Sports Reporter

After four years in Division II, soccer’s Caroline Halonen is finding her footing at Iowa.

Halonen transferred to Iowa for the 2022 season after finishing her undergraduate career at Northern Michigan, where she was the 2020-21 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year. She also earned All-GLIAC first-team honors in her junior and senior seasons and was chosen for the 2021 United Soccer Coaches All-Midwest team.

Halonen said she knew the move up to Division I would be a challenge. The attacking midfielder recalled her first practices at Iowa at the beginning of the preseason in July.

“I think I was definitely nervous coming in and it was a lot faster paced than what I was used to,” Halonen said. “So, I definitely had an adjustment period where I just had to kind of find my feet, but once I started getting more comfortable and everything, I think it went a lot better for me.”

The graduate transfer said her teammates, specifically goalkeeper Monica Wilhelm and midfielder Hailey Rydberg, made her transition to life as a Hawkeye easier. Wilhelm and Halonen are roommates for the 2022-23 year.

Halonen made her de facto Iowa soccer debut on Aug. 7 in a scrimmage against Northern Illinois. The midfielder made an immediate impression, scoring two goals and adding an assist.

Halonen followed that up with yet another goal in a scrimmage against Drake on Aug. 12, taking a touch into space at the top of the box and slotting it past the goalkeeper. Now, Halonen has played in all six regular season games and started three of them, averaging just over 52 minutes per game.

Halonen said she’s happy with her performance so far but said she’s still getting used to the faster pace of Division I soccer.

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“You’re always closed down super fast when you have the ball, so you always have to think of the next play before it happens,” Halonen said. “You aren’t allowed to dribble as much in certain situations, and you have to move the ball quicker. And then defensively, you always have to be switched on and know what [the opponent is] trying to do.”

Head coach Dave DiIanni said he’s been impressed by Halonen’s adjustment to the Division I level, complimenting her intangibles and chemistry with her teammates.

“She’s a very laid back, relaxed individual as well,” DiIanni said. “She’s charismatic and personable to be around and she’s got pretty good chemistry with the group … people want to play with good soccer players, and she’s a good soccer player, so it’s been pretty seamless.”

On top of her intangible qualities, DiIanni also complimented Halonen’s skill and scoring ability, evidenced by the 28 goals and 17 assists she racked up during her career at Northern Michigan, where she was a four-year starter.

“I think the first thing that you recognize with Caroline is she’s two-footed,” DiIanni said. “She’s a very skilled soccer player, she’s a good athlete — tall, strong, and very good in the air.”

DiIanni said while Halonen has needed to make some adjustments, her coachability and work rate allows her to grow.

“Right now, her brain is working pretty fast,” DiIanni said. “As she gets more comfortable with what we’re asking her, it’ll become second nature, and she won’t have to think as much, and she’ll just react.”