EAGAN, Minn. — Before Minnesota's newest sports team takes the field at TCO Stadium inside the Vikings' training facilities for their inaugural season later this month, the Minnesota Aurora FC pre-professional women's soccer team opened training camp on Monday.
Aurora head coach Nicole Lukic said on Monday that while about 30% of the team hasn't arrived due to exams, it still feels good to have the team's first training session under their belts.
"We're really excited to be here for first day of training," Lukic said. "It's been a lot of work leading up to this point."
The Aurora open their inaugural season, and the inaugural season of the USL W-League, on May 26 at home against Green Bay.
The USL W-League is the fourth league in the USL network and is a pre-professional league, which allows college athletes to play alongside international players without losing eligibility. The league's first season will feature 44 teams from across 20 states.
"All of our players are very excited to be the first pre-professional soccer team for Minnesota," Lukic said, "We have maybe 50% of our team coming from Minnesota and the others coming from all over the country, some of who have never been to Minnesota, but they're very excited to be here and represent the state of Minnesota."
One of those Minnesota natives on the roster is defender Makenzie Langdok of St. Michael, who also attended the University of Minnesota. In the first player interviews of training camp, Langdok said there was a ton of energy at practice with everyone wanting to be there.
"Having that high-level option after college is super fun, it's super fun to play for your home state and just be able to play soccer at a high level still, after college," she said.
'It's been a lot of work leading up to this point'
Forward Kristelle Yewah, who graduated from Michigan State University in 2018, said the biggest challenge at first is getting to know everyone's names and playing styles before the season opener.
Her path to the Aurora is unique since she hasn't played competitive soccer since college, but she currently attends grad school at the University of Minnesota and wanted to continue her soccer career.
"I played in like a rec league for fun and then one of my friends told me about this opportunity and I was like, 'I'm still young and still can play, I should probably take this opportunity,'" she recalled.
Lukic said goalkeeper Sarah Fuller looked great and is a leader on the team and joked that Fuller probably has more experience talking to the press than she does.
Fuller, who made history in 2020 as the first woman to score in a Power 5 FBS college football game while at Vanderbilt, was the first player the Aurora signed.
"It's been incredible," Fuller said. "I mean I had the most fun weekend ever and my dad was in town and we had a great time running around the town. It's just been so exciting and to see the stadium and practice on it today, I'm so excited to see it packed full of people, it'll be awesome."
She said the team connected well during the first day of training and it wasn't as cold as she was expecting, which was welcomed news as a native Texan.
'I think it's gonna be amazing'
With her history of being a trailblazer in sports, Fuller isn't shying away from taking on a leadership role on the young and new team.
"I definitely think being one of the older players, that's super important, especially with the goalkeepers, I want to make sure we're a unified team," she said.
Lukic added that there are some players with the team who are trying to make it to the final roster spots, with players' ages and backgrounds ranging from 16-year-olds and heading onto a collegiate team to 25-year-olds leaving their college team and trying to make it to a professional team roster.
The Aurora will play all six home games at TCO Stadium in Eagan, which is "top-notch," according to Lukic.
"So you're (the fans) gonna get an environment that's just really exciting," Lukic said. "We're gonna play an attractive, exciting, high-pace, attacking style of soccer, hopefully scoring lots of goals and giving the fans a lot of things to celebrate and be excited about."
Forward and Maple Grove native Morgan Turner said it's really awesome to have this platform for women's soccer and for players to display their talents on this stage.
"I think we've gotten a ton of support from the community and I think a lot of people know about us, which is super awesome," she said. "I think there are so many people excited about this team, which I think is really huge for women's soccer in this day and I think it shows how much people want to watch women's soccer and how many people are invested in it."
For the former DePaul University athlete, the opportunity that the USL W-League allows her to continue her soccer playing days, even if she isn't sure about her long-term career.
Turner added that players were excited about and wanted to join the team because of how special it will be thanks to all of the hard work that it's taken to get to this point.
"I've definitely thought about it (opening day)," Lukic said. "I think it's gonna be amazing."
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