By Robby Johnson
NKU Athletic Communications
Northern Kentucky University women’s soccer standout Emily Soltes will be in unfortunate-but-familiar territory this season when she attempts to bounce back from her second ACL tear.
The adversity Soltes has faced with her knee began in the spring of her senior year of high school. Everything was fine as she was committed to NKU and ready for her first collegiate season, but disaster struck and uncertainty soon arose.
“I was playing with my club team at that point. We were away on a trip one weekend and while we were playing our first game, I was hit on the side,” said Soltes. “I didn’t really know what happened right away, but I went to the doctor’s (office) a few days later and they told me that I had torn my ACL.”
The news was hard for her to take in, but what made it even more difficult for Soltes was that she needed to call her college coaches and deliver the bad news.
“Calling my college coaches was definitely one of the hardest things to do,” she recalled. “Tearing your ACL is one of those things where you hear it happen to other people and that it’s something you don’t think will ever happen to you. When I found that out, I took a day for myself to deal with it and knew that I had to make that call.
“With playing in college, you never know if that’s going to impact your playing time or your scholarship offer, so I honestly never had any idea how that was going to work. I think the uncertainty of how they’d react is what made making that phone call so difficult.”
But things didn’t change when head coach Bob Sheehan and assistant coach Steve Bornhoffer received the call. They were still on board with bringing in Soltes to NKU no matter what.
“Bob and Steve were both great about it,” Soltes said. “They were really positive and kind of said, ‘Whatever happens and whether you play the season or not, you’re still going to have an impact at NKU.’”
That sentiment from her coaches couldn’t have been more accurate. Soltes was sidelined at the start of her freshman season, but she was finally game-ready again by October, making her debut at Cleveland State — just minutes away from her hometown of Rocky River, Ohio. A game later, Soltes played a big role in NKU’s 3-2 victory over Youngstown State with her first career assist.
But the biggest highlight of her freshman season came when the Norse needed her most. NKU reached the Horizon League title game in 2016 and was tied with Milwaukee in the final minutes before a trio of freshman took over. In the 88th minute, Soltes assisted the winning goal by passing the ball over to Ally Perkins on the left edge of the penalty area. Perkins then dished to an open Shawna Zaken. The goal gave NKU its first-ever NCAA Tournament berth of the Division I era.
After so much uncertainty from tearing her ACL, Soltes had her confidence back, thanks to that performance.
“I didn’t really think about it at first because I was so preoccupied with doing rehab, but once I did start playing, it really hit me that I might not get back to where I was before,” she said. “That was definitely frustrating because you never know if you’ll get back to the player you were before. It all kind of came full circle after that game. Making a contribution like that made me feel like myself again, which was huge. I felt like I got my confidence back, so that was a pretty big moment for me.”
Her soccer career made more strides from there as she improved on her 2016 effort with a three-goal, two-assist campaign a year later. Then, in 2018, she was third on the team in points scored with 14 as a junior.
It was business as usual for Soltes when she played in NKU’s spring season during her junior year, but another road block soon appeared. In a home contest against Cincinnati to wrap up the spring schedule, Soltes tore her ACL a second time.
“In the last 10 minutes, I get hit again, hear the pop again and I knew in that second what happened,” she recalled. “Our team doctor was there that game and checked it out and told me right away that I tore my ACL again.”
Just like her freshman season was a few years prior, her senior season was in jeopardy.
“We went to the doctor the next day and Bob and Steve came to the appointment,” she said. “Bob kind of asked me then what I wanted to do and said right away that if I want a fifth year, that he’d give it to me. I didn’t want to let that end my career. I had already wrapped my mind around that fact that I already came back from this once, so I can do it again.
“I didn’t really know what the timeline was, but if I didn’t get to play the next season that I’d want to stay a fifth year.”
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Soltes’ recovery took longer this time, sidelining her for the entirety of what would’ve been her senior season. Although her career wasn’t done yet, she had to deal with the fact that it wouldn’t finish with the group of players she started her college career with.
“One of the hardest things from this past season was that I couldn’t end my career with the class that I came in with,” she said. “The six of us had been together since day one, so not being able to finish my career with them was hard. It hasn’t really fully hit me yet because we haven’t started next season yet. Once we go back to practice and I really am the oldest one there, I think it will really start to sink in.”
Without those five that she’s played with her whole career, things will surely be a little different, but Soltes says she’s still going to give it her all and that she’s optimistic for this upcoming season.
“I just want to give it everything I have,” she said. “I don’t really know what it’s going to look like when I get back, but this is my last season and I personally just want to contribute offensively as much as I can.
“As for the team, we have a ton of talent coming back and a lot of really good players coming in, so honestly, I think we have a real shot at winning the Horizon League Tournament.”