Though she’s one of the best soccer players in the state, Woodbury’s Emily Heslin was relegated to team manager duties for her high school squad last season.
Because of Minnesota State High School League rules, Heslin — who will play for the Gophers next fall — couldn’t play soccer for her high school and for her Minnesota Thunder Academy Elite team because their seasons coincided.
The high school league prohibits athletes from competing with non-school teams during the same season. However, a schedule change by the Elite Clubs National League allows Heslin a chance to take the field for her school.
“It’s exciting for a lot of girls to be able to play in front of friends, and it’s fun to be a part of your school and represent your school on the field,” said Heslin, who will be a senior at Hill-Murray. “I’m super excited. It adds something to the school year. I love my MTA team, but this is also really special.”
Last year the ECNL moved Minnesota Thunder Academy's start date for this season from Sept. 1 to late October. Players can’t start their club season until their high school season is finished, however.
Heslin, a center midfielder, is ranked as the 99th-best player in the country for the 2015 graduating class in the IMG Academy 150. Top Drawer Soccer has Heslin ranked as the eighth-best player in the Midwest and the 41st-best midfielder in the nation.
Though distinguished, Heslin’s high school soccer career has been unconventional.
Heslin starred for East Ridge’s varsity as a freshman. She transferred to Hill-Murray as a sophomore but still played for East Ridge that season. East Ridge actually played, and beat, Hill-Murray that year. Heslin said it was “awkward.” Last year, Heslin chose to play a 10-month season for the Thunder in the Elite Clubs National League — the premier national girls’ league composed of the top clubs in the country — forcing her to watch her high school team from the sidelines.
Simbo N’diaye, entering his second year as the Pioneers’ coach, said he was happy when he heard Heslin could play high school soccer, saying she has a terrific understanding of the game.
“She’s going to be a good addition to the team,” N’diaye said. “It’s good to have a good player like that.”
Heslin grew up in Woodbury and began playing soccer at age 4 for the Woodbury Athletic Association. She also played basketball and competed in track, but she quickly fell for soccer.
“I loved it from the start,” she said. “Nothing was quite like soccer.”
Heslin’s career hit a major road bump in eighth grade, however, when she was diagnosed with osteochondritis dissecans in her knee — a rare joint condition where cartilage and a layer of bone comes loose from the end of the bone. Heslin said the end of her femur “died” because it wasn’t getting enough blood. She underwent surgery and five months of rehab to return to the field and hasn’t had any setbacks since.
The injury didn’t scare off the Gophers, who got a commitment from Heslin after her sophomore season. Heslin said she has always been a Gophers fan.
“It’s weird,” she said. “It’s something you don’t think is realistic growing up, but then it happens. It’s really exciting.”
This season, Heslin and her MTA teammate Callyn Loughrey join a Hill-Murray team that should make waves in Class 1A. Last year, the Pioneers beat South St. Paul 3-2 in overtime for the Class 1A, Section 4 championship but fell to Totino-Grace 1-0 in the opening round of the state tournament.
“I think we’ll be all right,” Heslin said. “I’m hoping we can make it to the state tourney. I’ve never done that. But I don’t want to jinx it.”