By Terry Jacoby/weloveannarbor.com
It all started out so innocently – some friends having fun playing around.
Lily Soldan remembers it like it was yesterday.
“I started playing field hockey in the third grade through Rec & Ed with some friends in the neighborhood,” says Soldan. “Jeff Hamilton was my first coach and then I played for Bruce Elliott. They introduced me to the game and it was so much fun to play with my friends. I started to really enjoy the technical side of all the stick work, so I just kept on playing.”
Not only did Soldan keep on playing but took it to the next level on her way to the highest level.
In the sixth grade, she joined the prestigious Pinnacle Field Hockey Club and it really started to get serious. “It’s been really great for me,” she says of Pinnacle. “Nancy Cox is the head of the program and she coaches us at a very high level. There are some amazing players on the team and we get to play competitive teams from all around the country.”
She then took it to the highest level for a 16-year-old field hockey player.
Soldan was recently a member of the U16 National Team and competed with the US U16 team in the Netherlands in a 4 Nation tournament in April. She also was invited to a U18 selection camp in December which is a tryout for the U18 team for next year.
Soldan is coming off one of her biggest wins in her still very young career – and one of her best games. Only a junior, Soldan scored both of Pioneer’s goals in the team’s 2-1 upset win over rival Skyline in the Division 1 State Finals on Oct. 28 in Farmington Hills.
Soldan scored to tie the game at 1-1. And just a few minutes later, with 7:31 left on the clock, Soldan scored again to make it 2-1.
Skyline was the top seed and knocked off Pioneer twice during the regular season.
“We knew we were going in as underdogs but we liked that,” Soldan said. “We didn’t have a lot of pressure on us so there weren’t as many nerves. It freed us up to just have fun and play.”
And play they did – at the highest level. The Pioneers combined high energy, aggressiveness and discipline into a state title. They not only played hard but also smart and got strong play all over the field and very strong goaltending from senior Maddie Grand.
Soldan believes the Pioneers “peaked at the right time.”
“We were playing our best right when the playoffs started,” she says. “And we played our best game of the season in the championship game. We worked together and played tough. We marked their players well, which you have to do because Skyline can score so quickly.”
It was Pioneer’s second straight D-1 title and just another accomplishment for the best field hockey program in the state.
“It’s all Jane Nixon, our head coach,” says Soldan of Pioneer’s amazing success. “She sets such a great example. She is super positive and keeps us motivated, even when it’s not easy. This season started out rough but we rode through it and kept getting better, even when we didn’t feel like we were.”
Lily, 16, is the daughter of Matt and Julie Soldan. She has a 3.9 GPA and both of her sisters play field hockey. Her older sister, Kate, was named to the Michigan High School Field Hockey Dream Team last year as a senior and now plays at Villanova. Her younger sister, Violet, is in seventh grade and plays for Pinnacle.
Lily has her future already mapped out when it comes to field hockey and academics. She has already committed to attend Duke and play for the Blue Devils.
“I went to one of their field hockey camps and from the moment I stepped on campus it just felt right,” she said of Duke. “I loved the energy of the coaches and players. I noticed how the team was really hype and supportive of each other during their games. It reminded me of Pioneer. On top of that the school is incredible and the weather is pretty great.”
But Lily has one more season left with the Pioneers and hopes to make the most of it.
“Next year I’ll be a senior, so I want to soak up every minute of PFH and have a great season,” she says. “I’ll be working on a lot, trying to sharpen my technical skills and improve my game play. And I’m always working on making quicker decisions.”
One of her best decisions so far was going up to rec & ed with her friends to play some field hockey.