For a long time, Prairie Ridge’s Abby Klimkowski didn’t believe that she could play Division I soccer.
Conversations with new Wolves varsity coach Mark Lewis convinced her otherwise.
“He always saw me as a pretty dominant defender,” Klimkowski said. “Every time he saw me play, he said, ‘I don’t know why you’re shooting so low.’ He wasn’t really forcing me to do it. He was just saying I had the potential and I was inspired by that to go out and look at more Division I schools.”
That extra push worked.
Earlier this summer, Klimkowski committed to play D-I college soccer at Northern Illinois. Klimkowski said her second choice was Division II Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Lewis formerly served as an assistant coach for the Prairie Ridge girls soccer team. This year he takes over as head boys and girls varsity coach. He also coaches Klimkowski on her club team, the Crystal Lake Force.
“From really the first time I ever saw her play and train, I said to her that she’s really a D-I athlete,” Lewis said. “I spoke to her about that. Her drive and commitment to get better was really off the charts.”
Klimkowski was a lock-down defender for the Wolves as a junior last spring. She helped Prairie Ridge win its first 17 games before a loss in the IHSA Class 2A sectional semifinals.
“She’s a game-changer,” Lewis said. “She can shut down any team’s best player 1-v-1. She can bring the ball out from the back. She’s comfortable with the ball at her feet. She’s great in the air."
Staying close to home was a big factor. Everyone in Klimkowski's family has been involved in soccer at some point, and she wanted them to see her play. Abby’s younger sister, Lucy Klimkowski, also plays on the varsity soccer team at Prairie Ridge.
NIU is led by first-year coach Julie Colhoff. Abby Klimkowski is grateful that NIU believes in her ability.
“I haven’t played at the upper club levels of [Elite Clubs National League] and all of that,” Klimkowski said. “[Colhoff] is really giving me a big chance to come prove myself.”
First, Klimkowski will help the Wolves varsity team defend its Fox Valley Conference championship next spring, and go for its eighth consecutive regional title.