Emily Hess smiles when she remembers her soccer debut back in second grade.
“First time I started playing my parents had no idea what soccer was,” Hess said. “They had me with my shin guards on outside of my socks.”
The Batavia resident soon learned the right way to don her gear. She’s spent the past 12 years constantly expanding her soccer knowledge as she has climbed into the sport’s upper echelons.
Hess, a Batavia graduate and junior-to-be at Marquette, has developed a reputation as an athletic and determined defender who can adapt to any situation.
That has been evident this summer. The 5-foot-4 Hess is in her second season playing with the Chicago Red Stars Reserves, a summer-league team made up of top collegiate and post-college players.
The Red Stars Reserves play in the Women’s Premier Soccer League, which consists of over 100 teams and is considered to be the top amateur league in the nation.
“It’s a really good summer team to play on,” Hess said. “I like meeting all new people with different skills and just learning new things.
“This year has been really good because they play a little bit of a different [system], so I need to get [forward] more, which I enjoy. It’s just fun to be able to learn new things and be able to bring them [back] into my college environment.”
The left-footed Hess, already a two-year starter at Marquette, plays left back for the Red Stars Reserves (9-0), who have won their conference and clinched one of the 16 WPSL playoff spots.
“She’s good defending one-on-one and she’s got a good amount of speed as well, so she’s difficult to get behind,” Red Stars Reserves coach Brian Kibler said. “She makes good use of her positioning and her body to win balls and distribute, get involved and take players on.
“In one game we actually played her as an outside mid/forward and let her go and run at people.”
That is something new for Hess, who loves to attack and has proven good at it. She has scored two goals and four assists, including a long pass to striker Jenna Szczesny that produced a goal in a 2-0 victory over Fire SC 98 on June 23 in Oak Brook.
It was the latest impressive play from Hess, who is one of the younger players on a powerhouse team that has outscored its opponents 45-1. In addition to tremendous firepower, the Reserves have an impressive back line led by former Neuqua Valley and UCLA star Zoey Goralski, who was drafted earlier this year by the Chicago Red Stars.
“I’m very grateful to be playing with the people I am playing with,” Hess said. “They’ve been drafted and are from top-tier college teams. It’s just been a really fun experience.”
Fun has been a recurring theme during Hess’ career, as has success. She did not play high school soccer, instead playing club soccer for Eclipse Select, which she helped to back-to-back ECNL national championships in 2013 and 2014.
Marquette has had winning records in each of the past two seasons as Hess was named to the All-Big East Freshman Team and earned Academic All-Big East honors. She joined the Red Stars Reserves last summer but has improved dramatically in her second season.
“Any time you can be around players of this caliber and train with them on a regular basis it’s going to force you to improve,” Kibler said. “She’s getting more minutes than some of the ones that did play a little more last year and definitely the ones that are new this year.
“(Players] don’t realize the quickness and the speed of play and decision-making is heightened when you get to this level.”
Hess has risen to the challenge and stays steady through the inevitable ups and downs.
“The thing that I like to pride myself on is even if I’m not necessarily the best player on the team or if I’m not starting, I always give all I can when I’m out there,” Hess said. “Even if a bad tackle is made, I just keep working hard and hopefully it will pay off.”
The WPSL experience has paid off in a professional career for some players, including several who have played for the Red Stars Reserves. Hess, an exercise physiology major who aspires to become a physical therapist, won’t rule out following that route.
“I like to keep my options open, always just trying to be the best I can at whatever I do,” Hess said. “I’ll see where it goes but I’m just having fun right now and trying to get better.”