Photos By Nolan P. Schmidt
Before Ashleigh Heely and Kelsey Kallio stepped onto campus at North Dakota State, they had each other in their respective corners. The two Bison freshmen got to know one another quite well leading up to their collegiate careers. This was done via text, Snapchat and FaceTime, which the pair would do every day.
Heely and Kallio were able to create that strong friendship at a distance. Kallio is a native of Andover, Minnesota, which is located just north of the Twin Cities. Heely grew up some 2,000 miles away from Andover in Torrance, California, a part of the greater Los Angeles area.
So when the pair finally arrived in Fargo, they already had chemistry established. Their friendship allowed them to acclimate to college life rather quickly. So much so that both Heely and Kallio are everyday contributors for Mike Regan’s club. Despite being in their first year, they are already making a strong impact on the soccer program and their teammates.
Great success is most certainly in the duo’s future. For now, they discussed their long-distance friendship, the privilege of playing Division I and more.
A Friendship Blooms
Ashleigh Heely: After our official visit, that’s when Kelsey and I got really close. We would talk all the time, FaceTime every day and just build our relationship on that.
Kelsey Kallio: I think the biggest thing was that we were just so excited to actually get to meet each other in person. Obviously, we live in two different states and it is really hard because we couldn’t meet up like you could have with your club soccer friends. I think when we first came in the summer was the most exciting part. We were actually able to see each other consistently.
AH: Right off the bat, everyone kind of knew we were super close. We really focused on just building that relationship between July and October.
AH: I think we have very similar music tastes. We bonded over music a lot or we would always send each other new songs. That’s mainly how we got started getting to know each other.
KK: That was the stem of our friendship, honestly and it does kind of sound weird to say now. We were also getting to know each other on a more personal level too. We both have older sisters, we play similar positions so we bonded over those facts too.
AH: Kelsey came out to California for a game and I went and watched her play. I think that’s also where we got closer because we got to connect in person.
The Transition To College
KK: Having someone who we already knew helped ease us into coming here, for sure. For me, knowing a familiar face when we first got to campus was really important. We actually ended up not living in the same room in the summer, so we were able to have our personal time too. That was a good mix on top of hanging out with Ash in her room or whatever.
AH: Coming in, I didn’t know one person here. I think Kelsey had a few people from Minnesota she knew, but I didn’t know anyone. So it was nice to have someone to immediately talk to and be comfortable with.
The COVID-19 Cancelation
AH: I think the advantage is that we really got to learn what being a Division I soccer player is like. We had to learn how to manage our time right away. I think it gave us the ability to really get to know the team chemistry and get even more prepared for the season. Playing in the spring rather than the fall, we knew the team was going to be so much better than it was because the chemistry was already there.
KK: I would agree with that. Going off of that, coming in as a freshman, it’s super hard to learn a Division I program. Especially like game models and offensive and defensive strategy. The spring season gave us some extra months to learn those aspects as well as create meaningful relationships with our teammates on and off the field.
Making An Impact
KK: For me personally, I think it’s such a blessing being able to play at a Division I level. Getting the opportunity to step on the field as a freshman has been very impactful to me as a player. I’m sure Ash feels the same way, but it’s just mind-blowing how much fun it is and how much better the competition is than playing at a high school level.
AH: I’ve been dreaming of playing Division I soccer ever since I was little. Being here and being around people that also really want to be here has just made the experience amazing. We’re all so grateful to be here, and it really shows on the field. To be able to play as a freshman I think is a huge accomplishment. It just makes me realize that there are so many people that would want to be in this position. We just need to take it day by day and just be grateful for everything we have.
The Gravity Of This Situation
KK: It’s kind of jaw-dropping, honestly. If we both would have never made the decision to come here and play soccer, we would have never known each other and built the connection that we have.
AH: We have talked about this a lot like it blows our minds to this day. If one of us makes a different decision, we wouldn’t know each other. I think we all have had huge impacts on one another and it has made everyone’s life so much better in a positive way. I can’t imagine not having our team as a whole in my life or going anywhere else.
AH: I wouldn’t necessarily say my perspective changes upon coming here. I love learning about where other people have lived, how their high school was, how they grew up or how their family was. I wouldn’t necessarily say my perspective changed. I just really enjoy learning about what the differences are between each state and where everyone’s from,
KK: I would agree with that. Also, having a bunch of Canadians on the team has really opened up how different life is there versus in the states. We’ve learned about Canadian Thanksgiving and all these new things. As Ashley said, it hasn’t changed my perspective at all. It’s so refreshing to get to know more about people and their home lives.
I think the funniest thing for us is sometimes in the summer we would just sit in a circle and name off certain words. We would ask each other ‘how do you say bagel?’ or ‘how do you say bag?’ and things like that. It was so funny to hear everyone say it differently.
KK: I think just continuously finding time outside of soccer to actually grow and build friendships off of that. Obviously, it’s super important to have those strong relationships on the field too. Getting to know someone more personally each and every day can just impact your playing style with them. Feeling more trust with my teammates on the field and off the field is going to be huge.
AH: The way I think we all can grow as not just individuals, but as a freshman class is that we need to be there for the classes that come in next. The classes ahead of us do the same for us and are leaders. The next three classes that come behind us will need leadership and we have to be able to provide that.
KK: The accountability piece is something that has been very repetitive. We want to be accountable for everyone, no matter any circumstance. Us holding ourselves accountable to being leaders for the classes that come next is important.
AH: Our coaches are really big on having those relationships. I think one way we could grow is just by reaching out to someone new. We’re all fairly close on the team, but even if you don’t hang out with someone all the time, reaching out can go a long way.