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Woman’s Soccer Team.

AlmaGardarsdottir

Alma Gardarsdottir of the Kennesaw State University Woman’s Soccer Team.

    (Atlanta – GA / By Glenn Boylan)

I’ve been an avid fan of collegiate sports for almost 40 years. In that time, I’ve looked at lots of team rosters for lots of sports for lots of schools. Out of all those rosters, Alma Gardarsdottir of the Kennesaw State University woman’s soccer team is the first, and to this point the only, player I’ve ever seen from Iceland.

While that by itself seems like a good enough reason to interview her, when you add the fact that the red-shirt senior is a first team All-Atlantic Sun defender for the Owls, you’ve got two great reasons to talk with Alma.

Libby Knight, KSU’s Assistant Director of Athletics Communications, arranged for 10Soccer to talk with Alma last week. Our conversation covered the Owls’ 2013 season, her soccer career, and an Icelandic Primer.

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10Soccer: KSU women’s soccer had a good year last year. The team made it to the conference championship tournament. You were first team all-conference defender. What’s your take on the season for both you and team?

Alma: Obviously the goal was to win the conference. It was a little bit of a disappointment [KSU lost in the second round of the tournament], but I think we all did our best. For me, it was a big honor to be selected all-conference first team, especially because I feel that defenders don’t get a lot of credit in college soccer because we don’t have a lot of stats. For me it was huge.

10Soccer: What part of your game are you going to work on the most this year?

Alma: I want to come in a little fitter, that’s my main point. To stay healthy is most important because I’ve had a lot of injuries. If I can stay healthy and be fitter I think I can improve in most areas.

10Soccer: You didn’t miss any minutes last year did you?

Alma: No, which is huge for me because I’ve had a lot of injuries. [Alma and Owls goalkeeper Olivia Sturdivant were the only two players on the team to play every minute last season.]

10Soccer: What are your expectations for you and the team next season?

Alma: To do better than last season and build on what we did. Of course the goal is to win conference. It always is. I think that’s realistic to set our standards high and try to do better than last year.

10Soccer: Here’s the main question I wanted to ask you today: How did someone from Grindavik, Iceland end up in Kennesaw, Georgia?

Alma: My dream since I was a little girl was to go to America to play soccer. My coach back home was helping me because he went to school in America himself. Somehow he contacted Coach King. Coach King came over to Iceland to look at players. He met with me and talked about Kennesaw. He offered a full-ride. I decided to go with it. I had no idea what I was going into. I just showed up here. My Dad came with me. I barely knew English.

10Soccer: Really? Your English is great now.

Alma: It’s gotten a lot better. I could understand English. My freshman year it was hard to speak. It would get really frustrating because people would say, “I don’t understand what you’re saying.” So I would just not speak. But it got better every year.

10Soccer: What’s the difference between how soccer is played in Iceland versus how it’s played in the United States?

Alma: Soccer back home is more technical. Players read the game better.  Compared to here I think it’s more physical. Players are stronger and fitter.

10Soccer: The Kennesaw State team has a lot of international players. What do the international players bring to the team that’s different than the US players?

Alma: Experience. A lot of the players that come in from different countries have international games or have played a high level longer. I was 15 or 16 when I started playing at a high level. [Alma played on youth national teams for Iceland.] So I feel like the international players bring in experience.

10Soccer: In the US, kids get started in soccer in little league type programs, move up to traveling teams, then high school and college. How does that compare to how it works in Iceland?

Alma: It’s a lot different. We don’t have sports with the schools. Here you have high school sports and college sports. We don’t have that. It’s clubs. Basically I’ve been playing with the same club [Grindavik] since I was 6 years old. You travel with that club and practice with that club. Each club has a premier league team – the main team. As you grow up, you could be 15 and still playing for your youth group, but if you’re really good also playing for the main team.

10Soccer: Tell us about your career in Iceland. Did you play for Grindavik your entire career?

Alma: Except for one season. I started playing soccer when I was 6 years old. I also played basketball but I didn’t start until I was 12. At one point when I was 16, I was playing for the Under 16 [national team] in basketball and the Under 17 team in soccer and then the year after Under 18 and Under 19.

10Soccer: And then you made the decision to play soccer instead of basketball.

Alma: It was the hardest decision I had to make. It got to the point when there were a lot of conflicts. The basketball team was traveling and I’d have to miss soccer practice. It got to the point where I had to make a decision. Soccer was always my number 1 but at one point I thought I was a better basketball player. But I saw there was more future in soccer. My dream was to come to America to play soccer so I followed the dream and made that decision. But it was hard.

10Soccer: What do you like about living in America?

Alma: I really like it here. Living here is a lot easier. Both food and shopping are a lot cheaper. Especially shopping. It’s kind of ridiculous back home. Families at home will make a trip to America just to go shopping. I also feel the people here are friendly. It’s easy to get used to the culture. There’s not a lot of difference. It’s just the small things. I like the weather here.

10Soccer: Iceland is just below the Arctic Circle, but the weather there is not terribly cold.

Alma: It’s not. But it’s not very good throughout most of the year. It’s doesn’t get very cold but we have rainy and windy weather all the time. All the darkness we have over the winter is depressing. The summer time is nice.

10Soccer: What do you miss about Iceland?

Alma: It would definitely be my family and friends. It’s hard to be away from everyone. I feel like it’s harder to make good friends here in America because I’m used to having the same friends since I was 6 years old. The school system at home is different than here. We basically only have two schools from six to 16 with the same 20 people. That’s how you make really good friends.

10Soccer: Iceland has approximately 320,000 people in the whole country. Your hometown has about 3,000 people. The metro Atlanta area has 4.3 million people. Has that been a big change for you to be around this many people in this small of an area?

Alma: At first it was a huge culture shock. I’m from a town where you could walk everywhere. I came over here and I had to rely on a lot of people because I couldn’t get around. Then I got used to it. My third year I got a car. And now I like it.

10Soccer: Grindavik is home to the Blue Lagoon, which is very famous in Iceland. Tell us about that.

Alma: The Blue Lagoon about 5 minutes away from Grindavik. I could walk or bike there. There is a mountain right next to it. It’s a big thing to hike the mountain and then go down to the lagoon.  It’s a huge tourist place. It’s a natural hot spring in the lava. It’s very pretty.

10Soccer: Family names in Iceland are derived differently than they are here. Your last name is your dad’s first name plus “dottir”, but your brothers’ last names are different. They have “sson” at the end.

Alma: You’re right. Since my dad’s first name is Gardar, I’ll be Gardarsdottir because I’m a girl. My brothers will be Gardarsson because they’re sons.

10Soccer: Is there something that America does as a country that Iceland should do?

Alma: I have something very random. When you’re at a red light, you can turn to the right. But back home a red light is just a red light so you can’t turn right. After driving here for about two years, and then going home, a lot of times I’m about to turn to the right and I notice. You can get pulled over for that [in Iceland]. So I think that’s something Icelanders should do.

10Soccer: Is there something about Iceland that Americans should know about?

Alma: Iceland is the only country [in NATO] that doesn’t have an army, and it’s considered one of the most peaceful countries in the world. I think that’s pretty impressive. The cops don’t even carry guns. Some people do [own guns] for hunting, but it’s not as common. You don’t have to worry about getting shot.

Grindavik, Iceland is a long way from Kennesaw, Georgia in many ways. Alma Gardarsdottir got an invitation from Owl’s Coach Rob King to make that journey because of her soccer skills. But Alma has brought a lot more to the team, the campus, and the town than her ability to play defense. Her poise, maturity, and intelligence are quite evident both on and off the field.

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