Sports

O’Fallon soccer player taking her talents to professional ranks

O’Fallon High graduate Kirsten Crabtree (middle), shown playing for Missouri-St. Louis last fall, has signed to play professionally in Sweden.
O’Fallon High graduate Kirsten Crabtree (middle), shown playing for Missouri-St. Louis last fall, has signed to play professionally in Sweden. Provided photo

Soccer is about to take Kirsten Crabtree to faraway places.

Crabtree, a 2012 graduate of O’Fallon High who played three seasons at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, and one year at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, will leave Saturday night for an assignment with Skovde KIK in the Sweden Women’s Professional Soccer League — about 4,500 miles from home.

Crabtree, a midfielder and defender, will be with the team for its first practice April 3. Three months of games will follow before Crabtree returns to the metro-east June 30.

“From talking with my agent and other people that have played overseas, the style of play is different from what it is in the states,” Crabtree said. “It’s more possession-based and it’s a little less physical over there. I guess we’ll see how that goes because I’m used to being small and having to hold my own.

“Every team I’ve ever played on, from select up until now, has been physical. It’s more of the ‘beautiful game’ in their eyes over there.”

From talking with my agent and other people that have played overseas, the style of play is different from what it is in the States. It’s more possession-based and it’s a little less physical over there. I guess we’ll see how that goes because I’m used to being small and having to hold my own.

Kirsten Crabtree on playing pro soccer

UMSL coach Wendy Dillinger was instrumental in helping Crabtree secure the opportunity.

“Wendy sent a phenomenal email to my agent that kind of put it over the top for me,” said Crabtree, 22, noting that two highlight tapes of Crabtree playing also were instrumental.

Part of Dillinger’s email described Crabtree’s qualities as a player.

“Kirsten is incredibly quick, especially with the ball,” Dillinger wrote in the email. “Her first touch is exceptional. She can bring a driven ball out of the air while running at speed and set it right down on the ground. She accelerates on the dribble and leaves defenders scrambling to catch her. She can create goal-scoring opportunities on her own or can combine with teammates.

“One of the most impressive attributes she has is the ability to switch fields in one strike. She can drive the ball from one side of the field to the other quickly with precision — something that is not always seen in female players. Her power in striking on goal is among the best I have ever seen.”

I’m definitely excited for the opportunity. I’ve never traveled before. I think it will be very fun to experience a different culture and go travel to different countries. (But) I’ve always lived close to home. It’s going to be an adjustment because I’m very close with my family.

Kirsten Crabtree

Crabtree said three other Americans are joining Skovde KIK for the three-month season. Crabtree already has forged a friendship with one of them.

“I know one of the girls through a friend,” Crabtree said. “We’ve been in contact every few days just talking about what to expect. She’s been overseas before and has played half-a-season with a team already. The guy that kind of does all the recruiting said he’s looking forward to having four Americans come in just to kind of change their style of play a little bit.”

Crabtree, who had two goals in her senior season at UMSL, believes she will have to alter her play to be successful.

“My style of play is always to attack. I win balls and look for quick transitions,” said Crabtree, whose first game will be April 17. “That part of my game will stay the same. But I will have to adjust to the possession (style) instead of trying to dribble through a few people and then dishing it off.”

Crabtree will receive a stipend from the team and will live with a host family, which will minimize expenses other than any personal items she will need.

“(The team is) paying for living, food and travel,” Crabtree said. “The host family will be providing everything, and they have a daughter who’s actually in the (Skovde KIK) club. She’s 15 years old. It’s a pretty good set-up.”

Crabtree, the daughter of Michael and Katrina Crabtree, has an older brother, a younger brother and a sister. She said she’s “nervous and excited” about the immediate future.

“I’m definitely excited for the opportunity,” said Crabtree, who had 19 goals and nine assists during her high-school career. “I’ve never traveled before. I think it will be very fun to experience a different culture and go travel to different countries. (But) I’ve always lived close to home. It’s going to be an adjustment because I’m very close with my family. With their support, it’s going to go smoothly.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity you can’t pass up.”

Crabtree also has played three years for Fire & Ice, the local women’s semiprofessional team that competes in Women’s Premier Soccer League.

David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665, @DavidMWilhelm

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