The Student News Site of Bethel University

The Clarion

The Student News Site of Bethel University

The Clarion

The Student News Site of Bethel University

The Clarion

From overseas to ‘in net’


Military kid Izzy Smith faces her unexpected role as goalkeeper head on, just as she takes life head on.

By Ella Roberts

Junior goalkeeper Izzy Smith punted the soccer ball halfway across the field at Ona Orth Athletic Complex less than three minutes into the game, hoping to start Bethel’s soccer team off with possession. St. Catherine’s defense took possession right away, bringing the ball back like a boomerang. The ball slid across the dewy grass, aiming for the right corner. “Keeper!” Smith yelled as the ball found itself in between her gloves — the first of six saves of the night that kept the Royals in the game, losing 1-0. 

The youngest fans near the stands replicated the action taking place right before their eyes by grabbing an extra ball and running behind the bleachers. Passing and kicking the ball back and forth, a little girl turned to her brother and screamed, “I got it…I can be the goalie!” 

Smith embraces the highlighter yellow, red, blue or pink jersey she wears, standing out from the rest of her teammates on the field in hopes to be someone people can look up to. Although she never anticipated being in the goalie box every game, she steps into the role of keeper of the field proudly. This unexpected position models what she sees in her dad, who steps into his role as the family’s keeper, even while there is an ocean between them. 


Born in England, Smith and her family have moved 10 times between six military bases. Her dad, Josh Smith, has been deployed two times in his career with tours in Iraq and Eastern Europe. He has been away from his wife and three kids many times over the last 20-plus years, for “temporary duties,” for reasons like supporting or participating in military exercises and operations, or completing training courses. His longest deployment would take place in Germany where Smith, her twin sister Chloe, her little brother and her parents would live for four years. Smith’s family received the news that they would move to Germany while Josh was on a remote tour in South Korea. This was a 12-month-long assignment. 

Twin sisters Izzy and Chloe Smith have grown close over the years having to lean on each other through their dad’s deployments. Almost 3 years old, the two pose for a photo while their dad Josh Smith was deployed in Iraq in 2005. “I had Izzy to walk through this new stage of life with me. I knew that as long as we had each other, everything would be okay,” Chloe Smith said. | Submitted photo.

While her dad spent the entirety of 2016 in South Korea, Smith and her family lived in Box Elder, South Dakota, at Ellsworth Air Force Base. Smith’s family received orders for a follow-on assignment to the Rheinland-Pfalz state of Germany, in the southwest side, close to the borders of Luxembourg and Belgium. Three days after her dad returned home from Korea, Smith and her family were off to Germany. 

“I remember just being super bummed because I would have to move from friends again, and I would have to restart all over again, and I didn’t know what school would look like,” Smith said.

The family settled into a small village named Niederkail, located about an hour and a half from Frankfurt. They would live here for a year before moving into a house on Spangdahlem Air Base in the Fall of 2018. Smith and her sister would attend Bitburg High School, a school specifically for American military kids who were also living on base. It was common for new kids to be showing up– almost three a week.

In the fall of 2017, Smith and Chloe joined a German futbol team. Being off the American base, this is where she experienced some cultural shifts. 

Her new German teammates, used to speaking only in their language, would have to adjust to their new American teammates. The coach warned them that it would be uncomfortable at first for everyone. After a month, the team that was once divided by language would soon become one, after creating its own form of communication. Smith and her sister spoke in English, and the rest of the team would respond in German.

Smith also had to adjust to the different mindsets held by her new teammates. Soccer was not just an extracurricular activity here, it was a way of life – once you stepped out on that field, soccer was the only thing that mattered. 

“I loved it because it didn’t matter where you came from or who you were,” Smith said. 

Having Chloe around also provided Smith with some level of comfort. With not always having a stable home, maintaining friendships was not always easy for the two of them, so they learned to rely on their twin sister. 

No one else understood them the way they understood each other, especially on the field.

“We knew what each other’s next move would be and always were a step ahead of the other,” Chloe said. 

Chloe remembers a time their connection was put on display. 

Smith always took throw-ins, because she never failed to throw it all the way down the field. Chloe, a midfielder, getting ready to get the ball from her throw, made eye contact with her sister and Smith nodded, giving her the go-ahead. Smith threw the ball while Chloe turned to start running down the field, the ball landing just enough in front of her to trap it and dribble down the field, just in time to cross it over, allowing the forward to shoot in right into the goal. 

“We’ve been each other’s consistent person to go to throughout everything,” Smith said. Still, the sisterhood bond couldn’t replace that of the father-daughter one.

Smith’s father has always been her No. 1 fan — not just in soccer, but in life. 

“The distance has never stopped his ability to just encourage and push me to be a stronger version of myself,” she said, “He is a huge part of our life, and without him, things would just be different. It was kind of like we were missing something.” 

Not having her dad around took a toll on Smith as a person and as a player, but also on her family. When her dad left, her mom was the only one in the house supporting three kids through schooling and their different passions. 

Not having her dad around took a huge toll on Smith as a person and as a player because he acted as such a huge support to her. When her dad would deploy, things would get really hard “because he is a huge part of our life and without him, things would just be different. It was kind of like we were missing something,” Smith said. | Submitted photo.

The summer before Smith’s junior year of high school, her family took a trip to Minnesota to visit family, where she and her sister would also take college tours. In July 2020, Smith and her sister packed up their lives once again. Goodbye hugs took place in Germany before hopping on a flight to Minneapolis, where the pair moved into their freshman dorms at Bethel University. The two were greeted by their grandparents, who live just 25 minutes away. 

“It was different and difficult,” Smith said. “Normally that’s something you’d do with your parents…it was kinda sad.”

 – – –

During pre-season,  the Bethel women’s soccer team ran a 3-on-3 drill with a new player rotating as the goalkeeper. Freshman Izzy Smith stepped into the net, diving left and right, making some notable saves. She caught the eyes of the coaching staff, specifically Bethel’s prior goalkeeper coach Terra Hobs. 

Since her freshman year, Smith has been acclimated to her new position as a goalkeeper. During practices, Smith works with the goalkeeper coach Kaylee Flynn, who encourages Smith to charge the ball, yelling “keeper” or “away” and to get dirty. “Izzy is an incredible person to have around. She is a quick learner, a huge shot-stopper, and she radiates joy everywhere she goes. There is not a challenge she backs away from on or off the field,” Kaylee Flynn, goalkeeper coach said. | Photo by Teresa Brubaker.

After practice, the coaches approached Smith. They wanted to make her a goalie. 

A grin grew across Smith’s face as she let out a burst of laughter. After nobody responded with the slightest amusement, Smith quickly realized this was no joke. 

Her response?

As she remembers it, she said, “If you train me to be a goalkeeper, I will put all of my effort into it, but if it doesn’t work out, know that I did try.”

Video by Vanna Contreras.

Having only ever played midfield and defense, Smith never anticipated being a goalie – actually, it was the last position she ever wanted to play. The first week was rough. She struggled to learn to use her hands in a game she had only ever used her feet in, and to sacrifice her body by throwing it to the ground, doing whatever it took to stop the ball from crossing over the white line. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much in my life,” Smith said. “It was so hard and I didn’t think I could do it at all.” 

Mistake after mistake, she didn’t give up. She adapted, as she always had.  

“I didn’t want to let anyone down by not being successful, so that was what my motivation was,” Smith said. “To keep going and push through the uncomfortableness of not being naturally good at diving or hand positionings when catching the ball.”

Smith finds herself defining her soccer abilities by how many years she’s been a goalkeeper, but her grit and determination took her from tears at practice to 181 career saves with an 81% saving percentage, putting her in the top five for saves in the MIAC. 

“In my opinion, she is one of the best goalies in the MIAC,” coach Ben Linder said. “She’s really good. I don’t mean she’s really good for someone who just started playing goalie. I mean she’s as good as a goalie who’s been a goalie for years and years.”

Smith has gained confidence throughout the transition, while also falling in love with a position she once hated the thought of. 

“In net…everything just comes naturally…you can’t think about it, you just have to go and sometimes it feels like you’re flying,” Smith said. “I like to think I’m a superhero sometimes.” 

Photo by Austin Lagesse.

Smith has also found a home away from home at Bethel. She values community immensely and loves seeing her teammates outside of soccer, like when they go to their teammates’ games if they’re in another sport, cheering as loud as they can, when they all squeeze into someone’s dorm to watch a movie or play games or when they share how the Lord is moving throughout their lives every Monday during devotional time together. 

“We’re sisters who get to be together to play the sport that we love, and I love that we all have the same passion for soccer as well as for each other,” Smith said.

From moving so much, Smith has learned that home is not a place, but where her family is.  When she looks up and doesn’t see her parents in the stands, or when her dad isn’t there to give her a hug after a tough loss, such as a one-goal game versus longtime rival, St. Kate’s, who would go on to win the MIAC Women’s Soccer Playoff Championship, it can hit her hard. 

Instead, her dad cheers her on from afar in Las Vegas, Nevada, where her parents and little brother now live, and her sister from Florida, where she is in the Disney College Program. Smith’s parents always watch online and follow up after games with a phone call or text message. 

Whether they’ve been apart for a year or six months, “He has done really well leading the family in showing us that no matter how difficult the military life can be, it does work and it is successful as long as we’re all communicating with each other.”

Not having her dad around took a huge toll on Smith as a person and as a player because he acted as such a huge support to her. When her dad would deploy, things would get really hard “because he is a huge part of our life and without him, things would just be different. It was kind of like we were missing something,” Smith said.
| Submitted photo.


Despite her team not qualifying for the MIAC playoffs, Smith traveled to Northfield to cheer on the men’s team. In their game against St. Olaf, the second-seeded team, the Royals struggled to get possession of the ball. Down 2-0, Smith jumped to her feet after every blow of a whistle, shouting “C’mon ref! Are you kidding me?”  in opposition to the refs. After every completed pass, save or even just a good effort, Smith was there on the sidelines, shouting out encouragement to her fellow Royals, “You got this BUMS!” making her presence known. No matter where she goes.   

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Clarion

Your donation will support the student journalists of Bethel University. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Clarion

Comments (0)

All The Clarion Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *