- Associated Press - Sunday, February 28, 2016

MINOT, N.D. (AP) - A Sacramento, California, native, Emilie Rebelo’s collegiate soccer career was initially destined for Seaside, a California city located roughly three hours south of her hometown.

But a sudden coaching change altered that plan in an instant.

With a verbal commitment already pledged to California State-Monterey Bay, an NCAA Division II outfit, Rebelo’s playing career was thrust in doubt following the appointment of a newly hired coach, who quickly dismissed Rebelo’s intention to play for the Otters.

“So I got left with nowhere to go without about maybe two months before the start of the season,” Rebelo said.

But looking back, she regrets nothing about her career trajectory, the Minot Daily News (https://bit.ly/1S1RnkI ) reported.

“I’m a firm believer in that everything happens for a reason,” Rebelo said.

Still less than four months removed from her collegiate playing days at Minot State — a career laden with tournament wins and individual accolades — Rebelo is now getting a chance to fulfill her ultimate dream of playing professional soccer. Sometime in the next few weeks, Rebelo will journey to Brisbane, Australia to begin her post-collegiate career with Mitchelton Football Club on a one-year contract.

Rebelo will be the first to admit it. She didn’t fully expect her Minot State career to merit a professional opportunity.

But MSU women’s soccer coach Jason Spain is far from surprised that it has.

“She’s made a lot of big plays for us over the past few years, and that’s important at the professional level,” he said. “Emilie’s ceiling is really high, and it was always in the realm of possibility for her to make this kind of thing happen.”

Said Rebelo: “At first, all I knew was that I was getting a chance to accomplish one of my dreams of playing in college, and I was just going to make the best out of that. If something came out of it, then I’d go from there.”

And here she is.

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Rebelo is no stranger to lengthy journeys in pursuit of her soccer ambitions. She covered 1,535 miles alone in joining the Beavers from her hometown of Sacramento.

“It was between Minot and another school in West Virginia that was very small, and I kind of just went with it,” said Rebelo, who did not visit MSU’s campus before committing.

That move ended up being a fruitful one for Rebelo.

“I have no regrets about coming here,” she said. “I love Minot State.”

But her decision to move to Brisbane - a journey spanning just under 10,000 miles in one direction - required a bit more consideration.

“It was a really, really difficult decision to make, just in how far it is from home,” Rebelo said. “My first reaction was, ‘Oh yeah, I want to go play,’ but it’s difficult in that I’m literally going to be away from everything and everyone I know.

“It’s not just halfway across the states. It’s halfway across the world, and I’m going to have to start all over, learning everything they do.”

Thankfully for Rebelo, she’s already encountered unfamiliar environments before.

As a 16-year-old, Rebelo was called up to train with the U-19 Portuguese national team, an experience that carried both a cultural and a language barrier.

Then, upon her initial arrival at Minot State two years later, Rebelo found herself alone in another foreign place.

“But she made friends and she fell in love with the school,” said Joe Rebelo, Emilie’s father and high school coach. “It’s going to be hard for her. There’s no doubt about that, but I think she’s the kind of person that can adapt to that kind of situation well.”

Mitchelton F.C. begins its season today against Souths United. Rebelo won’t join the club until mid-March upon approval of her visa application.

And though she’ll be on her own at the beginning, that won’t be the case for long.

Former Minot State women’s basketball players Carly and Cristina Boag are both playing professionally for club teams in Sydney, while Rebelo’s brother also plans to visit the Sydney area with his family for an extended period this summer.

“That’ll help put me at ease a little bit more,” Rebelo said.

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As her prep career came to an end, Rebelo was initially recruited as an attacking midfielder. When she eventually arrived in Minot, that’s the position she played.

Until one afternoon in late September at Herb Parker Stadium.

Less than 24 hours removed from a regrettable 0-1 home loss to previously winless Minnesota Crookston, Spain made a judgment call.

“It was probably 20 minutes before we were getting ready to go on the field. He told me I was going to play sweeper that game,” Rebelo said.

Smiling, she added: “I looked at him like he was crazy.”

Little did she know that that move would vault her to unforeseen heights.

Rebelo helped Minot State preserve a clean sheet that afternoon against Bemidji State.

She also played the same position the rest of the season, and finished the year with five goals and 12 point en route to All-Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and All-Central Region honors..

Rebelo nearly replicated those numbers in 2015, scoring four goals and two assists while leading an MSU back line than ranked first in the nation in fewest shots on target allowed.

“During the championship run in 2012, I put her at the back when we took a 1-0 lead, and she closed the game down,” Spain said. “She’s big time, man.”

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Rebelo’s seen plenty of the field the past four years.

After redshirting her freshman season at Minot State, Rebelo started a majority of the next four at various positions for the Beavers, including the last two as an all-conference and all-region defender.

And her streak as a starter will likely continue in a professional uniform.

“I think she’ll play right away. She’s too powerful not to,” Spain said. “She’ll have to adjust to the speed of play of that level, but it’s an adjustment similar to the jump high school kids make when playing in the Northern Sun.

“She can hit the ball 65-70 yards. She’s pretty dominant.”

Rebelo’s long-ball ability was a unique weapon at the Division II level, and played a big part in Spain’s tactics the past two years. This past season especially, with junior striker Ninja Ramirez up top, one boot from Rebelo was capable of turning a nervous defensive moment into a dangerous counter attack in a flash.

Her free-kick ability is also well documented. While also handling MSU’s penalty-kick duties, Rebelo scored several dead-ball goals during her college career, including one during the 2014-15 season from beyond midfield.

But long-ball tactics aren’t what she’ll encounter in Brisbane.

“It’s going to be different. Their style of play deals with a lot more possession out of the back, so I’m not sure if I’ll be asked to hit long balls ever,” Rebelo said. “Maybe once in a while, which is fine with me. I like that style of play a lot more, playing possession out of the back. It’s a lot smoother.

“But it’ll be a transition. I have to get used to a while new team and a whole new back line. It’s not going to be the same, but it’ll be a good experience.”

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Information from: Minot Daily News, https://www.minotdailynews.com

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