Haley Hillstrom and Emily Reiten had to make tough decisions early this fall.
The two former Blue Jays committed to play collegiate soccer at Northern State University their senior year at Jamestown High School. Now, four years and a pandemic later, the current NSU seniors decided to close a major chapter of their lives.
"My name wasn’t on the roster this season due to Covid," Hillstrom said. "When I found out we wouldn’t have a collegiate season I decided to Covid opt-out and focus on school and applying to grad school."
Northern State is offering student-athletes another year of eligibility due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Hillstrom's future plans outweighed the possibility of having another season on the field. Hillstrom is planning on applying for graduate school to eventually pursue a veterinary career.
"It was a hard decision to make because my team is my family and soccer is a huge part of my life," Hillstrom said. "We were still able to practice in the fall and have an exhibition game to cap off our senior season."
Hillstrom was a three-year starting goalkeeper and two-year team captain for the Blue Jays under head coach Mike Schulz. Hillstrom was also a two-time WDA all-conference selection and a 2017 all-state honoree. During her junior and senior seasons, Hillstrom recorded a total of 18 shutouts.
The former Blue Jay completed her senior year with over 60 saves, allowing just two goals across the team's nine regular-season games. The Jays' 9-0 season was the program's best regular-season finish in school history.
"We didn't concede a lot of goals that year," JHS current head soccer coach Brandi Harty said of the 2017 season. "That really helped with Haley's recruiting. Recruiting was fantastic for her, they did a really phenomenal job back there."
Harty said Reiten was a huge impact player for the Blue Jays. She was a five-year starter and three-year team captain for the Jays. Reiten recorded 42 career goals in her prep career and was a five-time All-WDA selection and a tour-time all-state honoree.
Reiten tallied 15 goals and eight assists during her senior campaign. Reiten was a first-team all-state player and was among the top goalscorers in the WDA her final season.
"Their overall drive and determination to be the best that they can be are probably one of the biggest things they taught those younger players," Harty said. "They are both very strong people and they really set the pattern for what Blue Jay soccer should be. They taught those younger kids what it takes to be winners."
That determination and dedication to the sport were both things the duo implemented during their time spent at Northern State.
"I learned how to play through adversity," Hillstrom said. "Not everything goes your way or how you planned it to go. I had a few surgeries during my collegiate career and had to take a spring season off."
Hillstrom appeared in the net in two games her freshman year, playing a total of 56 minutes and 16 seconds and making six saves. During her second season, Hillstrom only appeared in one game and did not face any shots on goal. Last season the former Jay appeared in four matches and made 26 saves for the Wolves.
"I would say that I also learned a greater understanding of the dedication and putting in work off the field," Hillstrom said. "College sports is another step up from high school and you have to put in the extra time to be great."
Reiten made it a priority to put in the extra time needed to be great.
In 2017 the forward appeared in 17 games, starting in 14 of them. She recorded one goal and one assist her first year out. In 2018 Reiten started in 10 games and racked up three goals and one assist for a total of seven points. Reiten appeared in 13 of the Wolves' 18 matches last season.
"Don’t be afraid to fail and learn from your mistakes," Reiten said. "Focus on constantly improving yourself."
While three years on the field came to an abrupt end for the JHS alums, both Reiten and Hillstrom said the memories and bonds formed will last a whole lot longer.
"Being on a college team is one of the best decisions I’ve made," Hillstrom said. "You push yourself to do things you maybe thought you couldn’t do and stretch your boundaries."
Reiten added: "Being in a sport allows you to come in with a group that you already have so much in common with. You become super close with your teammates (and) create a bond that will last forever even after knowing each other for a few years. They become your family when you are away from home."
Post collegiate plans for the duo don't include soccer right now, but Harty said it is clear that soccer will hold a special place in the hearts of both Hillstrom and Reiten.
"Both those ladies have a passion for the game and you can tell by the way they played," Harty said. "Honestly, I can say I don't know how many girls soccer players, besides those two, who've stuck it through for four years. It's kind of nice to see them stick it through."