Back in high school, Emily Steil suffered an ACL knee injury that could have ended her soccer career. Now, she is a captain of the Iowa State soccer team and leads the team in goals, assists, shots and shots on goal.
Steil has been playing soccer since the age of four. Now, she is in her senior season at Iowa State. She played in all 18 games last year and tied for second on the team in goals, but if it weren’t for something that happened years ago, she might not have ever come to Ames.
In high school — right when she was starting to gain attention from Division I colleges — Steil tore her ACL on a breakaway collision with a goalkeeper which kept her sidelined for about a year, and she had to prove herself all over again.
Steil described it as “God’s grace,” because it triggered all the events that led up to her traveling all the way from Southern California to Iowa to further her soccer career.
“Never in a million years [did I think] I would end up here,” Steil said.
The story of her path to Iowa State starts during her toddler years and her first introduction to soccer. Her father, Doug Steil, played football in high school and wanted to make sure his kids knew the value of athletics.
Doug Steil brought her to an American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) game near their hometown and immediately she made an impact. She scored numerous times, much to her father’s surprise, and got noticed by the local club team which came around the area trying to help girls that might have an interest in soccer.
A woman from the soccer team approached Doug Steil and told him his daughter should be playing soccer due to her already evident gifts. From there, the Steil family never looked back.
Fast forward to high school. Emily Steil started gaining notoriety in her area from a variety of West Coast colleges due to her soccer skills.
Emily Steil grew up around sports thanks to her father, but off the field, she can thank her mother, Laura Steil, for what she describes as a spunky personality exactly like her own.
“She’s the coolest mom I’ve met in my entire life,” Emily Steil said. “Everyone loves her.”
Laura Steil was born in Monterrey, Mexico. Emily Steil revealed her legal last name is Mendez Steil, which she got partially from her mother. Laura Steil moved to Texas during her middle school years.
Her father and mother knew early into her life she could have a future in soccer. The local club teams were some of the best in the nation, and she already displayed natural gifts for the sport along with her father’s athletic background.
When she went down with a knee injury, it hit her recruiting hard.
Seeing this and wanting the best for his daughter, Doug Steil took it upon himself to help her out with her future.
He emailed numerous schools, including Iowa State, about playing soccer, pretending to be her. Doug Steil, born in Dubuque, Iowa, grew up an Iowa Hawkeye fan.
Despite the rivalry, Iowa State found a new fan in Doug Steil, who will only admit to being a Cyclone fan if they aren’t playing the Hawkeyes.
Iowa State initially didn’t respond to her emails, but the Steil family traveled to New Jersey for a tournament, and assistant coaches Jason Wichman and Megan Kerns were there. They were very impressed with Emily Steil. Still, it wasn't a match made in heaven right away.
“We didn’t have a lot to offer because the recruiting class that we had was already filled,” said coach Tony Minatta.
Despite this, Emily Steil fell in love with the school and decided she wanted to continue her soccer career as a Cyclone. Her family was surprised but excited for her.
Iowa State proved to be the perfect fit for Emily Steil as well. She made it clear to her parents she wanted to be far away from home, and she also wanted a school with a big sports program.
Before her collegiate career started, she got a chance to meet some of her future teammates and established a bond with a few of them right away.
Former Cyclone defender Madi Ott was in her third year on the team when Emily Steil came into the program, and they became friends quickly.
“It’s kind of an intimidating situation to walk into, and she was super far from home,” Ott said.
Ott, one of the veterans on the Cyclone roster at the time, proved to be influential for Emily Steil, as well as another junior at the time, Kourtney Camy.
Despite this, Emily Steil only had a few days after graduating high school before she had to settle into her new life halfway across the country, so it wasn’t a perfect transition.
On the field, Emily Steil logged heavy minutes for a freshman.
“Emily [has] always been one who's put in so much work off the field,” Ott said.
Perhaps no one knows about her work ethic better than senior co-captain Riley Behan.
Behan has been nursing an injury which has kept her sidelined for the entire year, but she has been playing alongside Emily Steil for years.
Emily Steil and Behan met during their senior year of high school on an official visit to Iowa State, and they decided to be roommates for their freshman year.
“She just has this heart of gold,” Behan said. “She always knows the right things to say.”