Holly Hein had a goal.
While that in itself doesn’t set her apart from the typical college soccer player, the circumstances surrounding this goal do.
Hein is a versatile player in her fourth year at the University of Michigan. After starting most of her freshman year, she played in just six games during each of the last two seasons, having to miss most of her second campaign with a knee injury, but having to shut down last season for a much more sobering reason: cancer.
She has surgery to remove her thyroid gland last fall after being diagnosed, but her attitude throughout has been remarkable, and she’s shown an equally notable resilience in getting back into the team’s flow of things. She completed the spring season with the Wolverines and has hit the ground running this season, starting 3 matches and performing well as a defender (she can play pretty much any field position) with some other UM starters absent for the FIFA U20 World Cup.
Hein seems pretty tranquil about the journey she’s been through. She states that it was just a case of fulfilling a goal she had set.
“My goal was to get back in there, into the starting lineup,“ she said. “I wanted to help us get going and help lead our team to a good start.”
At 4-0, Michigan has certainly done that.
Head Coach Greg Ryan has been as impressed with Hein’s attitude and effort as much as anyone.
“The team did so well with the news because Holly is so strong. You’d think they told her she had caught a cold she was so strong about it,” Ryan said. “She’s an independent, intelligent human being. She knew the prognosis was relatively good, that they had caught it early, but a lot of people, perhaps myself included, had a much more difficult time. Holly was rock solid and she showed it in her interviews. She took it as an opportunity to help people understand the condition and what could be done.”
Hein is matter of fact about her reaction to the diagnosis and her battle against cancer.
“It’s a really treatable type of cancer,” she said. “I’m very fortunate that it was detected early. There is a95 percent (cure rate). Now everything is looking good. I have to have yearly checkups, but otherwise I’m good to go.”
OK, but it is still cancer. Cancer.
Hein did allow that she struggled with the emotional impact of the news, and especially of having to miss most of another season.
“For me it definitely has been interesting,” she said. “Since I tore my ACL the year before, I had already taken a long break from being on the field. To do it again, that was a struggle at time. I had my family and teammates still, but the field is where I would always go and I not have to worry about anything, so to not be there was difficult. It did make me appreciate things more. It made me recognize I’m fortunate to…be here.”
Ryan said that Hein is doing much more for the Wolverines than just being there.
“She’s doing a great job. She was fantastic on defense and has been a key leader on our team,” he said. “She’s playing center back. She played up top I club and she’s played midfield here, but she’s such a smart player and understands the game so much more than most American players. She reads things so well at the back and is always one step ahead of the play. She’s great in the air and her passing in the back is excellent.”
Hein has to take medicine designed to replace the hormone produced by the thyroid. She said it hasn’t really affected her fitness or energy level thus far.
“I really haven’t noticed anything,” she said “I had to stop taking it for a while (during radiation treatment) and I seemed to be able to get up and go just fine.”
Now the Screen Arts major (and Academic All Big Ten) is focused on helping the Wolverines continue their strong start to the season, mentioning the team will be welcoming back some stars who were absent for the World Cup with the Canadian U20 National Team.
We’re looking pretty strong. I’m really excited and happy about our start. The freshmen this year are awesome and between them and our returning players we want to keep it going. I want to get a Big Ten Championship of some sort before I leave next year.”
That statement sounds like another goal to me. Look out conference.