Like many girls her age, 13-year-old Julia Gudalevich, an eighth grader at Solon Middle School, likes to draw, play with her younger brother and hang out with friends on the weekends.
But on the soccer field with her 13 teammates, Julia has taken a more non-traditional route.
She is the only girl on the all-boys Solon Soccer Club, an elite group of players she joined by invitation this month.
The club has been in existence since the mid-1980s, and Julia is the first female player.
“The first time she walked in, it was very seamless,” Club President Robert Cohn, a resident of Solon, said. “She fits in perfectly with the team.
“It’s not looked at like ‘she is a girl, we’re guys,” he said. “She was welcomed with open arms.”
Julia, at 5-feet-1, said she was a little nervous at first because she didn’t know anyone on the team and wondered if they would be stronger players.
“We kind of all just became friends,” she said. “They treated me like I was one of the ‘boys.’”
They respected her for her skill level, she continued.
They also didn’t go easy on her.
“I just like playing with good soccer players, and Julia is one of them,” said teammate Noah Konheim, 13, a Solon Middle School student who plays center midfield. “She works hard and is a good teammate.”
Fellow player Syon Thapa, 13, a Solon Middle School student who plays center midfield, agreed.
“If you play soccer, I don’t care if you are a girl or a boy,” Syon said. “We treat her like everyone else. She is a member of the team, and I think she is a good dribbler.”
Mr. Cohn said “she plays the game the right way,” and is often known to “dribble through people.
“She has a high level of soccer acumen,” he noted. “I’m extremely happy and excited for her and what this can bring.”
Julia is basically making history, her father, Stan, said. “She is the first girl ever to be on this club, which technically was a boys club and in the past girls were not accepted.”
Thankfully the coach is open minded, Mr. Gudalevich said.
“If she is good enough, and if she can help the team, then why not,” Mr. Gudalevich said. “There are no restrictions that said she can’t play because she is a girl.”
Julia takes this all in stride, noting that she was drawn to the team because she wanted more challenges and more aggressive play.
She came to love soccer by the age of 10, and prior had played basketball. Before joining the Solon Soccer Club, Julia played for the Solon Lightning girls travel team beginning in the fourth grade and for two seasons. She was a defender at the time.
She went on to play club soccer last year as an outside wing and forward and joined the all-boys club this month.
Her team, which practices and makes its home field at Solon Community Park, has a record of 2-2-1.
“She’s a starter,” Mr. Cohn said. “Julia has been a great asset and a great leader by example with the team and taken a lot of people under her wing to show them how to play soccer.”
Mr. Cohn said the door is open for any women athletes to join the Solon Soccer Club.
“We are very opportunistic with that,” he said.
Julia, who sports a number 10 on her jersey and ties her hair back in a ponytail for games, said that the only time her gender is noticed or called out is when a contender or coach may say “mark the girl,” or “watch her.”
She wants other girls to know that if they want to get better and try a harder skill level, they should come and try out for a boys team as well.
“I think we’re very open minded to it and would welcome any girls with skills and qualified to play who want a challenge and be a part of the Solon Soccer Club,” Mr. Cohn said.
Julia said she got confidence to join the team from her dad.
“I was encouraging her she can do that,” Mr. Gudalevich said. “In my opinion, she was better than most of the boys.
“Why hold her back because when she was on a girl’s team, it was too easy,” he said, adding that playing on a boys team as a girl is not for everyone. “We decided that more challenge was needed because the ultimate goal is to prepare her for the high school team.”
Julia, who will attend Solon High School next fall, said she will play on the all-girls high school team and hopes to play soccer in college.
“I think this is a good opportunity for me to get better,” Julia said. “It is just better for me as a player.”
She said oftentimes the boys on the team get mad or yell at each other if a play goes wrong.
“Some girls might be intimidated,” Julia said, “but they do not feel intimidated.
“I feel I am a role model.”