Not many athletes go on to play in college, and even fewer can play in the pros. As graduation day approached for Maddie Orf, ’17, the Sycamore soccer star wondered whether her own talent on the pitch could secure a spot on a professional team. But in March 2017, she received an answer — from all the way across the world.
“I woke up one morning to see an email alert on my phone. I was excited just by seeing that because this pro team and I had already exchanged emails back and forth, so I was just waiting to see what would happen,” Orf said. “I read the email on my phone, and I was blown away.”
The former State midfielder landed an offer to join IFK Timrå — a professional team in the top division in Sweden. When she signed on just days later, Orf became the first Indiana State soccer player to ever go pro.
“After I read the email that morning, I was in the car driving down Locust Street in Terre Haute to go to training. I saw the stadium to my left, and it kind of just hit me,” said Orf. “That’s where I kind of got teary-eyed and thought, ‘Wow, this is really happening.’”
And it’s no wonder why. More than once, Orf’s outstanding performance on the field earned recognitions from the Missouri Valley Conference, such as the First Team All-MVC, MVC Scholar-Athlete and the MVC Commissioners Excellence Award. The Sycamore started in all 73 games during her four years, scoring 21 goals and making nine assists. She racked up 51 career points, securing the second-highest rank in every offensive category in the history of the program.
“I encouraged her to try to find a professional team in her last fall season,” said Julie Hanley, head coach for the women’s soccer team at State. “Maddie said, ‘Coach, I don’t even want to think about it. I can’t believe I only have three games left. But I’d love to go and play overseas, but I don’t think I’m good enough.’ I told her she was absolutely good enough. We started making her a highlight tape and got in touch with a recruiting agency based in Sweden.”
Only two weeks after connecting with the agency, Orf had landed her position as a midfielder with IFK Timrå. The packaging engineering technology major made arrangements with her professors to finish her coursework online, which allowed her to move to Sweden in April and still complete her degree.
Before moving on to the pros, the Sycamore’s four-year college career included some record-setting highlights and unique opportunities. In Orf’s freshman year, the team finished second in the MVC for the first time and established the longest winning streak in the university history. In her senior year, the team rallied after some challenging seasons to return to the MVC tournament again. The Sycamores also had the opportunity to travel to Morocco to play two games and explore the north African nation.
“She was the complete package as a student-athlete. She had it figured out, both on the field and off the field,” Hanley said. “But she’d be the first to tell you that none of her successes would have be possible without the help of her teammates and teachers at State.”
With guidance from her first head coach, Erika True, Orf discovered the packaging engineering major that perfectly suited creative and mathematical mind. The student-athlete graduated with the academic honors and a solid résumé featuring an internship experience in her major.
“Being a student-athlete is something I wouldn’t change for anything, but it was challenging,” Orf said. “I don’t think people realize how difficult it is. You really have to be committed to your sport and your schooling to succeed. Your life consists of going to class, studying, practices, weight lifting sessions, game days, travel. You spend a lot of time with your team, and they become your family, which is awesome. But you have to set your priorities to what you want. But to do this is a blessing. ”
The alumna said she grew as a player and teammate not only by improving her soccer skills, but also by becoming a more vocal leader with the confidence to guide others and address tough situations. Her work ethic has always been clear to her coaches and teammates, Hanley said.
“I think the thing with Maddie is that she does all the little things right,” Hanley said. “She takes care of her body, she gets enough sleep, she eats the right things, she studies the game. I think that her willingness to do all those little things, even if she didn’t see the results right away, but knew she would be successful down the line, has gotten her to this place. She’s very smart; she reads the game very well. And her engine, she can run all day. She’s just effective. Her work, her vision, she’s a game changer for sure.”
Orf has continued her soccer successes with her new team, scoring 10 goals in her first spring season. “Soccer is universal. But this experience has been very different from college. We practice three times a week and play the games on Saturday. There’s more free time now, which is actually a harder adjustment on the body,” Orf said. “Plus, I’m in a very different culture. The good news about Sweden is that most people speak English. If it weren’t for that, I would be completely lost. And there’s just the small details like driving cars, clothing, social gatherings like ‘fika,’ where people come together for coffee and pastries. But I’m enjoying experiencing the game in a different country and traveling to new places.
“I wake up every single day and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, is this real?’ I don’t get used to it. It’s awesome to consider yourself a professional soccer player. I’m just trying to take it day-by-day and take it all in and be faithful and grateful for everything thrown my way so far. It’s been crazy, but it’s awesome.”
Follow Maddie Orf’s journey on her blog, Living the (Swedish) Adventure.