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Gabbie Cesarone’s long journey shaped her into Gophers soccer leader

Currently a graduate student defender, Cesarone faced a long journey to get to Big Ten stardom.
Photo courtesy of University Athletics.

Many athletes have unusual superstitions to get them in the mindset for the game, but for Gabbie Cesarone, a few games of solitaire and sudoku do the trick.

“It is an ongoing joke amongst our team and everyone thinks it’s really, really funny that I do this,” Cesarone said.

Her simple pregame tactics have paid off; she has put up three goals and two assists in her last five games, enough to tie her goal total from last season with Washington University in St. Louis.

Cesarone leads the Gophers in goals — with her career-best total of six — despite being a defender. She hasn’t always played this position, though.

Growing up in St. Charles, Illinois, Cesarone began playing soccer as a forward. Beginning at four or five years old, it wasn’t until her later years in middle school when she changed positions.

“On the first day of practice, he [her coach] pulled me aside and he was like, ‘I know you’ve played forward your whole life, but you’re not a forward.’ He moved me back to defense, and then, the rest is history,” Cesarone said.

Defense truly was Cesarone’s calling; she was recently named to the Second All-Big Ten Team.

When she started high school, Cesarone became interested in playing collegiate soccer. She attended St. Charles North High School and played for Eclipse Select Soccer Club, a reputable program.

Cesarone’s hopes of playing college soccer soon came to fruition.

“College coaches started to reach out to me and then I was also on a team where historically almost every girl went on to play collegiate soccer,” she said.

When the grueling process of choosing a college entered the conversation, Cesarone had eyes on playing for a Division 1 (D1) school. As important as soccer was in her decision, academics were a factor as well.

During the recruiting process, Washington’s soccer program contacted Cesarone, but she had no interest.

“This story is one I tell often because I don’t give my mother enough credit, but I actually didn’t even want to visit WashU initially, just because I was really set on the D1 mentality,” Cesarone said.

After some convincing from her mother, she eventually visited the school.

“I absolutely loved my visit. I loved the team, loved the coaches, loved the campus, and it kind of fit every single one of my boxes.”

Cesarone committed to play Division 3 soccer at Washington and began her undergraduate studies in 2018.

Inspiration and motivation come from others

In her first year at Washington, Cesarone was awarded with the University Athletic Association Rookie of the Year award. Though this accolade could be attributed to her personal work ethic, Cesarone chose to recognize others as her motivation.

“As I got older, my role models really turned into my fellow teammates and my other friends that played,” Cesarone said.

One friend stood out: Justin Hardy, who was also from St. Charles. Hardy also attended Washington and was a member of the Bears’ basketball team. Prior to college, Cesarone and Hardy were not close, but the two connected at Washington.

Unfortunately, in the spring of 2021, Hardy was diagnosed with cancer. Despite needing treatments, Hardy made the choice to play the following season – which happened to be his senior season.

“Just to see this kid that you know had all of these crazy things going on in his life be able to still, one, play the sport that he loved, but also give 100% to the sport was a huge inspiration to me,” Cesarone said.

Hardy died in May. His story not only inspired Ceasone but has influenced others across the world.

Cesarone said Hardy was one of her biggest supporters and inspired her to continue to play by using her fifth-year of eligibility in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

When scouting out a school to attend for post-undergrad, academics were once again a priority. Like Washington, Minnesota was incredibly appealing for its academics, and especially its athletic program.

“I think what’s really unique about Minnesota is how much pride there is in the school,” Cesarone describes.

Minnesota provided a much different experience compared to Washington. Not only is Minnesota an NCAA D1 school, but it is also a member of the Big Ten.

“It’s all the homegrown players that grow up playing in Minnesota,” Cesarone said. “Their dream is to come represent the state and the school.”

The final season

Now a graduate, Cesarone is in her final season of collegiate soccer. As she has been accustomed to in previous years, she has seen a lot of personal and team success.

Individually, Cesarone received a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honor in October. Yet, she refuses to claim all of the recognition.

“Anytime an individual can win an award, I think, ‘yes, my name was on the award,’ but I think that’s an award for the whole team,” Cesarone said.

While she’s grateful to receive the honor, Cesarone said the award emphasizes her team’s resilience at the time. Gophers soccer was in a slump. The team had just snapped a three game losing streak by defeating its rival Iowa and was in need of a bounce-back to reach a playoff spot.

“We finally really started to settle into our own at that point,” Cesarone said. “I feel like at that point in time is when we really started to hit our stride.”

After their intervention, the Gophers would not lose a game for the remainder of the regular season. This recovery allowed the team to clinch a spot in the Big Ten Tournament, where they will face the number one seed, Michigan State, in East Lansing on Sunday.

Although the matchup seems skewed, Cesarone said she has high hopes for the game. “We’ve played highly ranked teams that are very technical, very good teams, and have a lot of hype around them,” Cesarone said. “It’s not something that’s going to be new for us”

Many label Minnesota as the “underdog” in this matchup. Cesarone, however, would disagree: “I don’t really buy into the underdog mentality as much.”

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