East Ridge girls soccer: Solheim a Raptors staple
Kari Solheim said she’s been playing soccer since she could walk. Now, the East Ridge senior is playing her fifth year of varsity soccer and is soaking up her final high school season.
“It’s kind of surreal,” said Solheim, a team captain this year. “It’s just really exciting to be here again with Mark (head coach Mark Abboud) and with the team. We’ll see what the season brings for us.”
Solheim has been a staple for the East Ridge’s girls soccer team since the school opened its doors in 2009. Her connection with her coach goes back even further. Solheim has played soccer for East Ridge head coach Mark Abboud since she was 9 years old. She first played under Abboud with the Bangu Tsunami, then later with the Minnesota Thunder Academy and now at East Ridge.
“I’ve played for Mark pretty much my whole life,” Solheim said. “He’s probably the best coach I’ve ever had. He’s so relaxed and he motivates me without putting on too much pressure. He makes it fun.”
Abboud said it has been enjoyable to watch Solheim — a small but shifty and swift attacker for the Raptors — blossom over the past five years at East Ridge.
“It’s been a joy to see her development and watch her mature,” Abboud said. “It’s just been fun. She came in as a little, quiet eighth-grader and now she’s a senior leader and captain. It’s a good model for other kids.”
Solheim almost didn’t get a chance to play out her soccer career at East Ridge, however. This past year, Solheim, 17, played for the Minnesota Thunder Academy under-18 club team in the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL). Minnesota State High School League rules don’t allow club play during the high school season. But, current seniors were given the chance to play club and high school soccer this year.
“They gave our grade a bye, but everyone else had to choose,” Solheim said. “I was going to just play high school, because it’s my senior year and I love it so much. But I didn’t have to make that decision.”
Abboud said East Ridge lost as many as eight potential varsity players to club soccer this year, which hurt, but he was happy to retain his captains in Solheim and senior Jaden Vogelgesang.
“They were coming in as captains and were looking forward to their senior years and being leaders,” Abboud said. “It would have been very difficult for the club to say those kids couldn’t play high school. I think the club did the right thing. It would’ve been really tough to lose my two captains.”
Abboud said he believes there is more to high school soccer than just soccer development — there is a social aspect and other life lessons to be learned.
“I vividly remember my high school experiences,” Abboud said. “They say that memories are tied to emotion. There’s an emotion to high school soccer you don’t get with club soccer. At the end of every high school season there are tears. That’s part of what I love about it. That’s the passion these kids have playing for each other and playing for their schools.”
Solheim said she enjoyed playing soccer for the Thunder and traveling the country with her teammates. She said the club soccer experience is more business-like, however, compared to high school soccer.
“It’s less stressful playing for East Ridge,” she said. “You’re playing under the lights for all your friends and wearing your school’s jersey. There’s no better feeling.”
Solheim said growing up she played a number of sports in addition to soccer — softball, tennis and gymnastics — but that soccer “stuck with” her.
“There’s something about having the ball at my feet, running with the ball and scoring goals,” she said. “It’s really fun.”
Another reason Solheim said she stayed with soccer was because of her older sister, Anna Solheim, who is a 2012 East Ridge grad and current player at Luther College in Iowa.
“I look up to my sister a lot,” Kari Solheim said. “We’ve always played together growing up and through high school.”
Abboud admitted he probably took “some flack” for inserting Solheim into the varsity lineup as an eighth-grader, but he said it was clear she was varsity material.
“She is very quick,” he said. “She’s a technical dribbler and quick with the ball at her feet. She plays bigger than her size and she gives everything she has on the field and is a smart player.”
Though she is small in stature and gives up almost a foot to some players, Solheim is hard to knock off the ball.
“Over the last couple years she’s developed more of an attitude,” Abboud said. “She’s a little pit bull out there. She doesn’t like getting the ball stripped away from her.”
Abboud said Solheim’s main strength is her ball handling and her ability to change direction quickly.
“Her shooting has developed and she’s become a better passer, but she’s really good with the ball at her feet and her changes of direction,” Abboud said. “She can be a real pest to the defenders and that’s what we need from our forwards.”
Abboud said there aren’t many players in Minnesota with the ability to have a five-year varsity career, but that Solheim is a special case.
“She’s in a small group of athletes like that,” Abboud said. “She is very genuine and wears her heart on her sleeve. She works hard and is a good role model for the kids. She’s extremely coachable and receptive to feedback and she’s been a joy to work with.”
Solheim said she’s currently undecided on what college she’ll attend or if she will even play college soccer. But regardless, for now, her focus is on her high school team and enjoying her final season with the Raptors.
“I’m just hoping to have a lot of fun this year,” she said. “We’re playing well and the team is bonding. We’re going to keep working hard and moving forward and hopefully get some good results.”