Halla Hinriksdottir started playing soccer when she was 12 years old. Now, the sophomore is the starting goalkeeper for the Oregon women’s soccer team.
She’s journeyed a long way to get to Eugene, not just in her game but also geographically. Hinriksdottir hails from Mosfellsbær, Iceland.
During her early career in Iceland, Hinriksdottir played for her local club team, Afturelding. She played with the team until 2013, when she decided she wanted to take her game to the next level. She joined Breiðablik, a club team based in Kopavogur which had recently won the Icelandic Premier League.
Before joining Breiðablik, though, when Hinriksdottir was 17 — just five years after she started playing soccer — she was called up to the U19 Women’s National Team. After participating in several camps and workouts with the team over the course of a short season, Hinriksdottir was left wanting more.
During her downtime between seasons with Breiðablik and camps with the U19 team, Hinriksdottir decided she wanted to challenge herself: she wanted to play in America.
“I know a lot of athletes who have moved to the United States and started playing college sports because we don’t have college sports in Iceland,” Hinriksdottir said. “Playing high school or college sports is a really an American thing.”
Hinriksdottir has so far enjoyed her time playing at Oregon. She especially appreciates being a student-athlete — not a student and an athlete like she was in Iceland.
“When you’re a college athlete you get to focus a lot more on your sport, and your school understands that you are an athlete, too. That’s hard and takes a lot of time,” Hinriksdottir said. “But when you’re a university student (in Iceland) and you sign with a big club, they don’t really care.”
Hinriksdottir’s tales of playing in Iceland has inspired her Oregon teammate Marlo Sweatman to potentially pursue a future in soccer there once her college career comes to an end. It was during an early season road trip when Hinriksdottir told Sweatman all about playing in Iceland.
“We were sitting across from each other at dinner and she literally told me everything about playing in Iceland,” Sweatman said. “She really sold me on it.”
The atmosphere in Iceland is what Sweatman wants. She enjoys playing the game at a competitive level but wishes for less pressure and to enjoy the game for what it is.
“It’s that ‘have fun’ type of atmosphere,” Sweatman said. “Everyone here obviously loves what they do but she made it sound like in Iceland, you play because it’s the game you love.”
During her freshman year at Oregon in 2014, Hinriksdottir found herself in an unfamiliar situation: she was no longer the best keeper on the team. She did not play a single minute all season and didn’t travel with the team.
The year off, however, was beneficial to her game. She picked up tactics and skills she did not learn in Iceland. She adjusted to the speed and a more technical style of play.
Oregon goalkeeper coach Tom Serratore said he immediately recognized Hinriksdottir’s confidence when he arrived in Eugene to start preseason. The first-year coach credits that to her youth growing up in Iceland.
“She picks that up from home and her family,” Serratore said. “I think that’s just part of what she’s known her entire life — being confident in herself.”
That confidence, along with the competition provided by the other goalkeepers vying for minutes, helped Hinriksdottir win the starting job this season. In the 14 games she started this season, she totaled 39 saves and two shutouts.
With a year of experience under her belt, Hinriksdottir looks poised to be the starting goalie next season, as well.
Follow Gus Morris on Twitter @g_amorris