H.S. Profile | "Not a clown, but she's always upbeat"

ELGIN — From soccer to volleyball and back again, it took Mikayla Walkes some time to find her place in high school sports.

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Plainview-Elgin-Millville girls soccer goalkeeper Mikayla Walkes works on drills with her teammates at practice Wednesday afternoon in Elgin. Walkes was a volleyball player two years ago, before finding her place on the soccer field.

ELGIN — From soccer to volleyball and back again, it took Mikayla Walkes some time to find her place in high school sports.

Now the Plainview-Elgin-Millville junior looks right at home in that large boxed-in real estate in front of the soccer goal.

Walkes' emergence as an excellent goalkeeper in her first varsity season has helped the P-E-M Bulldogs to a 7-4-1 record. The Bulldogs had won five straight before Tuesday's 4-2 loss to La Crescent.

"I played soccer in seventh grade, I was on defense, and I found it just wasn't really my thing at that time," Walkes recalled. "So then I played volleyball for two years; I was a middle hitter."

Missing her soccer teammates as much as the game, she switched back to soccer last year as a sophomore. She decided a position change might make the game feel new and improved.


"I was excited about coming back to soccer, but I was really nervous because I didn't know how I'd do," she admitted. "We really needed a goalie, not many people play that position, and I thought it might be my best opportunity to play."

The 5-foot-10 Walkes brings good height, instincts and "unbelievable foot skills" to the goalie position, according to P-E-M head coach Michael Heppner.

With the help of a solid defense led by senor Isabel Schultz, junior Kali Jurgenson and sophomore Nicole Bartz, Walkes has three shutouts and a 1.7 goals-against average.

"On the field, she is really good at cutting the angles (of attackers) and covering the corners (of the goal)," Heppner said. "The upper corner of the goal is a tough area to defend, and her height helps there. She saved a shot there against Dover-Eyota to preserve a win for us (2-1 in overtime)."

Walkes was the goalie for P-E-M's junior varsity team last season, and over the summer she worked on her game playing in Euro league tournaments with the Rochester-based El Fuego 16U team.

Heppner said Walkes' development has been remarkable.

"I've never seen a player make this type of improvement this quickly," he said.

Fun is Job One


Heppner has built a consistently competitive girls soccer program at P-E-M in his sixth year as coach, and the Bulldogs are working on a fifth straight winning season.

A trip to the state tournament has eluded P-E-M so far, and that will be a tall challenge again in a Section 1A field which includes traditional powers Lourdes, La Crescent and Kasson-Mantorville. The youthful Bulldogs might still be a year away.

But winning games isn't the only object for Heppner's team.

"Our goal is to play good soccer," he explained. "Our purpose is to show our athletes how to be good people and good teammates. Did we play hard? Did we represent our school with dignity and pride?

"That's more important to me than wins and losses."

Heppner said that Walkes' positive personality plays right into his coaching plan. She does her part to ensure that practices and games are enjoyable, in good times and bad.

"She's not a clown, but she's always upbeat," he said. "A team needs someone who can lighten the mood, especially when it is down, and keep everyone smiling. She gets that in the big picture we are just playing a game."

For Walkes, it's hard to wipe the smile from her face now that she has found her sport, her position, her team.


"I'm having a blast," she assured. "Just being on a team where everyone is so much fun and we all like each other, it's great.

"Our most important thing is for us to have fun; the next thing is to win."

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