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‘Sweet Caroline’: It’s not just a Neil Diamond song, it describes huge season for Wildcats’ women’s soccer player Caroline Halonen

Northern Michigan University’s Caroline Halonen, left, battles Northwood’s Stephanie O’Keefe for the ball during the second half of their GLIAC Tournament women’s soccer quarterfinal match played April 27 at the Superior Dome in Marquette. (Journal file photo by Ryan Stieg)

“We’re so grateful to have a player like Caroline.” — Jon Sandoval, NMU women’s soccer first-year head coach, on Wildcats junior and GLIAC Offensive Player of the Year Caroline Halonen

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MARQUETTE — Competing in a fall sport during the spring, doing so indoors and dealing with COVID-19 protocols would have had an effect on most college athletes, but those challenges didn’t seem to faze Caroline Halonen of Northern Michigan University.

The junior midfielder on the women’s soccer team shrugged off all those obstacles and finished with the best season of her college career this spring.

Halonen led the GLIAC in goals with 11 — nine coming in the regular season — finished second in points with 23 and led the conference in shots by a wide margin on her way to earning conference Offensive Player of the Year.

Northern Michigan University's Caroline Halonen, center, moves the ball upfield toward a teammate as Ferris State's Pia Nagel, left, and Emily Mergener give chase during the first half of their game played April 9 in the Superior Dome in Marquette. (Journal photo by Ryan Stieg)

She’s only the second Wildcat to earn the award and it left her feeling amazed.

“It’s really an honor to get that award because there’s so many really good players in the league and I was kind of surprised,” she said.

Halonen has shown that she has an accurate shot and can score from quite a ways out from the net, so she obviously has raw talent and can change the game with her abilities, but she also said she’s been practicing a lot to enhance those skills.

“I worked a lot throughout the fall and extra too throughout the season,” she said. “Just like with the men’s assistant coach this year. So I think that definitely helped me. I felt more confident in front of the net and then I think it definitely showed in the games that I was more confident.”

Wildcats head coach Jon Sandoval is definitely aware of Halonen’s abilities and noticed how she’s grown as a leader during his first year at the helm.

“That’s probably been the most rewarding thing,” he said. “Look, Caroline’s had this ability for awhile. She’s been able to score goals at will and she’s been one of our best players, hands down, even before I got here.

“I can’t take any credit with what she’s done. She is just an absolute stud on the field and the best thing to see what she’s done this year, even more so from what she’s done on the field, is the way she’s developed as a leader.

“She’s been more vocal, she’s taken ownership in terms of what we do offensively. She helps the younger players that we have on this team and makes them feel at home a lot quicker.

“So we’re so grateful to have a player like Caroline.

“Offensively and tactically, Caroline is a player that I use the example as a mustang. She’s hard to rope in and to get her to play a certain role and that was something that we had to get her to buy into, and again, Caroline is a very high quality player and when you’re managing a player like that, they have a choice to buy into a new coaching staff who’s young that doesn’t necessarily have the respect that other coaching staffs may have, and she had the choice.

“She made the choice to buy into what we were telling her and she took her role that she didn’t necessarily play the last couple years and she did that role to the best of her ability and I think she saw early on is like ‘Hey, we could be very successful if I can rope in a position and if I can do these things to the best of my ability.’ And that’s what she did.

“She bought into what we were trying to tell her. (Assistant coach) Darian (Powell) and I, I played mid-major Division I (at Western Illinois) and Darian played Power 5 (at Marquette), so we’ve been through it.

“And we’ve been in those high-pressure matches and I think Caroline was able to see that and say ‘Hey, these guys might have an idea of what it takes to be successful’ and we couldn’t be more pleased on what she’s progressed as a player on the field, but even more so, who she’s become off the field.”

Halonen describes herself as “not a very serious person” who likes to have fun and she doesn’t “worry about too much.” She also knows she doesn’t have to worry about her teammates, either.

“I think a lot of people stepped up this year and I think they’ll just continue to step up,” she said. “We aren’t really losing many girls, many seniors. So I think we’ll definitely be able to build on it coming into the fall. Especially just with the year we’ve had, it motivated everyone to work really hard this summer so we can kind of get even better results in the fall.”

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.

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