23-year-old Nadine Hilkert has spent the last four and a half years in Connecticut, where an athletic scholarship to Southern Connecticut State University enabled her to attend college at the same time and play football for the team, the Southern Connecticut Fighting Owls. She spoke to Hohenloher Zeitung about her new club TSV Neuenstein and about women’s football on the other side of the Atlantic. The second half of the Bundesliga season begins on Sunday at 11am with the first match between the leaders in the standings against third-placed FF in Heidenheim.
Mrs. Hilkert, what brought you to America?
Nadine Hellkert: I heard when I was in high school that you can combine soccer with studying in the United States. A career in women’s soccer is a dream for many. It immediately worked for me through a sports scholarship and I am very happy with the experience.
What sporting successes have you been able to celebrate with the Fighting Album?
Hellkert: We did really well in the NCAA Division 2 Collegiate Athletics, having two back-to-back Finals as an underdog. This is an interstate league in which teams from different universities and colleges compete. I have also been nominated twice to the Northeast Academic All-Conference Team twice, which requires athletic performance and college grades.
What is the value of sports in the United States, especially women’s soccer?
HellkertSports is very important in the United States in general, and the US national team has also been very successful in women’s soccer. Unlike in Europe, school and university sports are much more prized there, also by offering scholarships. There is a strong attachment to individual teams and everyone takes pride in being able to represent their university. There are fewer sports scholarships in Germany, so we have a lot to do.
How do you increase the interest in women’s football here in Europe?
HellkertWomen’s soccer is already a hit in Europe, but it’s not very popular compared to men’s soccer or college soccer in the United States. Of course, I hope that one day, with good performances and broader fan support, we can come out of the shadows of men’s football and achieve the status of women’s football in the United States. Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go until then.
What do you think of the big difference between European and American women’s football?
HellkertIn Europe, mass sports focus more on clubs, while in the United States, sports are run by schools and colleges. Women’s soccer is very popular thanks to successful college teams. There are also differences in the organization of game operations, for example, there are no second rounds in America. Since you play twice a week and have to train in between, things get pretty tight during the season. You see your teammates every day, and you spend more time with them than you do with your family. Football itself is more sporty and physical. More value is placed on renewal, strength training and team building. We even had mental trainers and yoga teachers at our disposal.
How did you come to TSV Neuenstein?
Hellkert: I played there as a kid because my dad was a coach there. In Hohenlohe women’s football, TSV is a very good title, so a lot worked for me. With good development work, you want to achieve something here in women’s football, and I’d like to help with that.
TSV Neuenstein successfully played the first half of the season and is currently the leader of the Women’s League in Wrttemberg. What do you expect for the second half of the season?
Hellkert: Upgrading to Oberliga is a realistic goal. Anyone who’s followed the team over the past few years knows that things are constantly getting better. However, we look from one game to the next. Preparations over the winter break have gone well – two wins from two games – we want to build on that.
What are your personal goals at TSV?
Hellkert: First of all, I want to integrate into the team and enjoy the game (laughs). I felt very welcome and after a few weeks I feel really comfortable there. I want to do my part on the pitch for a potential promotion.
Do you want to return to the US at some point or is that not an option for you?
Hellkert: I originally only wanted to stay in the US for a year, but I loved life and football there so much that I stayed throughout my degree. But I always saw my future career in Germany, also because of friends and family. I have been able to achieve my goals in Connecticut. Now I’m home and I want to build something here.
Nadine Hilkert was born in 1999 from Schwabach. She began her career as a soccer player at TSV Schwabbach, and through the U17s led to the second women’s team at TSG 1899 Hoffenheim. Then he moved to the United States to Southern Connecticut State University. At the beginning of the year, she returned to her roots and plays as a central defender in the first women’s team of TSV Neuenstein at Verbandsliga Wrttemberg.
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