Augustana rookie Samira Khobdeh is in “my happy place” on the court. Wauconda is happy to have him there too. – Chicago Tribune

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Wauconda senior defender Samira Khobdeh has always been drawn to the football fields.

“Football is everything to me and simple in my mind,” she said. “It’s my happy place. When I’m upset, I want to go play football.

This was true even when his skill level didn’t match his enthusiasm.

“I wasn’t very good for many years,” she said. “I was always in the bottom team. Even my club coach said he didn’t think I would become the player I am today. But I continued to grow as a player year after year.

Khobdeh’s father, Payam, saw this unfold. He coached her for almost five years in youth soccer and attributes her determination and work ethic to her growth as a player.

“She has won everything in football,” said Payam Khobdeh. “I never saw it (travel) as a struggle. She never acted angry and was always happy. But she played hard. She loved being on the field with her teammates. She wanted to go higher and for her it was always the next hill to climb.

Samira Khobdeh continues to climb. She signed to play at Augustana College last week and has become a key defensive presence for Wauconda (5-5-1, 3-0), which sits first in the Northern Lake County Conference.

The Bulldogs have played most of the season without star goaltender Mackenzie Arden and even suffered an injury to her replacement, Lily Schmidt, but have allowed just 12 goals in 11 games. Schmidt has six shutouts in seven games played.

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“(Khobdeh) has been off this year,” Wauconda coach Beau Shogren said. “She was a rock there. She’s not the tallest, but she’s physical as heck. She will tackle and body-up the girls. She has the skill to advance the ball from this position. She does a lot of things well that aren’t in the stats book.

Shogren remembers Khobdeh “was fearless as a young player”. Maybe she wasn’t feeling so fearless, though. She called her first season “unnerving”.

“Every little thing I was afraid to mess up,” she said. “But now I’m more confident. It’s good to be a leader for the younger girls.

Khobdeh’s college education gave him a blueprint for success. She said she was ranked in the top five of her class, had a 4.7 GPA and scored 1,420 on the SAT.

“Academics are pretty easy for me,” she said. “To be able to get good grades, you have to make an effort. I used the same mindset in football.

“I just kept working to get achievement after achievement to build my confidence. It didn’t come naturally to me. Some people have a natural sense of the game. I had to watch a lot of practices and practice a lot I always wondered, ‘Why don’t these kids have to do the same?’ I know I wasn’t very good, but I wanted to be able to be part of the team, I knew I had to work harder.

Bobby Narang is a freelance journalist for the News-Sun.

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