Author: Mark Privratsky
It's January 9th and I'm on the way to a sports dome in Vadnais Heights. We hadn't even seen the MN Aurora brand yet! The Minnesota Women's Soccer Team (as they were then called) was holding its first ever player tryout, and the team was happy to let me observe. Having never attended an open tryout like this, I had no idea if a player would be able to showcase themselves in the format, or if the team would find actual talent for their squad. Reminder, this was at 8am in January! About 40 players attend the tryout, a few Tommies, plenty of local D3 and D2 players, a few high school aged girls and a handful who were post college career.
Insta DM spreads the word
Is it worth holding "open" tryouts like this in the middle of January? Will the right players even hear about it? Sometimes all it takes is a message on Insta. Kristelle Yewah was years removed from a standout career at Michigan State. Now enrolled in Dental School at the University of Minnesota, she is all in on her career path, and simply playing in a rec soccer league when time allows. She gets a message on Insta from her friend Abby Enrichi, a former Augsburg soccer player, about the MN WoSo tryout. "You have to try out." Kristelle hasn't heard of the team or the league, but she knows she misses getting to play in a real soccer environment. Kristelle signs up for the tryout on January 9, and Abby Enrichi etches her name in Aurora FC fan lore forever.
The coaches break the players into groups to play 5 v 2, players are shaking off rust. The keepers work on the side, taking shots on each other (this was surprisingly intense for some reason!). Now the coaches break the players into small sided teams and rotate them through games. It's a bit easier to spot the standouts at this point, because in a chaotic process with players who don't know each other, the best players will still look in control. The coaches end the tryout with full field scrimmaging. At this point I feel like it's obvious who stands out. She played in the midfield and simply looked intentional in her game. She made her passes and facilitated her teammates around her. I said to my brother after the tryout (had to provide the receipt), if I could guess one player they'd sign, it'd be Kristelle Yewah.
Making a first impression
When asked what she saw in Kristelle at that first tryout, Aurora Head Coach Nicole Lukic put it like this, "...her athletic ability, she can hold the ball really well, she has good technical skills. Every time she gets the ball she has a natural drive to want to go forward and just take space and keep the ball. That really stood out at the tryout because there just wasn't anybody else like that." Also putting into context that this was January and Kristelle isn't playing soccer at the moment, "obviously she's not in a season right now, she's not even in her top shape, so then you start thinking oh my goodness if we can get this girl back into her D1 shape, she's going to be a threat for sure."
Lukic spoke to the value of having both veteran players who may not aspire to the NWSL or Europe, and also young players who are seeking that path who benefit from leadership in players like Kristelle. "She's very mature and knows where she's going in life. She's going to be a good role model for younger players on the team for sure." On the field, Lukic could see Kristelle playing as a 2nd forward/false 9 role, as an attacking mid or as a winger if need be. She's not just here to mentor, it feels like she can be a big player on the field as well.
Kristelle Yewah was announced as the 2nd ever MN Aurora FC signing after Sarah Fuller signed the day before. To me it was a signal of intent by the team. A Big Ten Captain who played 4 years at Michigan State, and also someone who is driven to succeed outside of soccer. Aurora can give much of the credit to the Yewah signing to the University of Minnesota (and Abbi Enrichi), as it was the Dental program that drew Kristelle here to begin with -- she's in medical scrubs in her signing announcement! We've seen subsequent signings match what you see in Kristelle, high achieving people who ALSO happen of course, to be great soccer players. Because make no mistake, she also wins.
At Okemos High School near East Lansing in Michigan, Kristelle was a State Champion, 4 year Varsity player, 2 time All State, including a 20 goal senior year where she was named State Journal Player of the Year. Even though she grew up a Michigan fan, recruiting landed her in her backyard at Michigan State. There, a close connection with the local Okemos high school as teammates of hers also went to MSU. Over the 4 years she grew into a leader and Captain at Michigan State as well, appearing in 60 games for the Spartans, including one win over Michigan (that gave us the great pic at the top of the piece).
Aside from wrapping up Dental school at the U of M, Kristelle has found creative ways to use her gifts. In the most Michigan move of all time, she took her degree in Kinesiology to a fellowship at Lear Corporation, where she did testing on how car seats affected comfort and safety of passengers. This fellowship was through Challenge Detroit, which cultivates diverse, innovative, community-minded leaders from the city and across the country, fostering their talents to support local initiatives that move Detroit forward. Fellows spend 4 days in traditional work settings and the 5th day fellows focus on social impact community projects.
By the time Kristelle laces up her cleats at TCO Stadium in from of thousands of fans, we hope her Dental school work is on pause for the summer. She'll be joined by a handful other players from that first open tryout on January 8, by teammates from Big Ten rivals, and from players from around the country. Even though it's been a few years since she bossed the field at Michigan State, I wouldn't be surprised to see her stand out once again. It's what she does.
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