Photo by Faith Delamarter.
CALEB DENORME | ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR | email@example.com
Enthusiastic. Joyful. Super competitive.
Sommer’s path to Butler University is unlike any other. It involves moving across the globe multiple times, beginning her professional career at the age of 14 and becoming an internationally capped player for Israel while still in college. Through it all there has remained one constant: her sheer love of the game.
“I feel the most myself when I [play soccer], like there’s no one in the world who can change me, and I just feel like that’s my safe place to be myself,” Sommer said.
Sommer’s story begins in New York City, where she lived for the first six years of her life. Her uncle, an Israel native, introduced her to the game of soccer by showing her Brazilian legend Ronaldinho juggling the ball, and since then she’s been hooked. She began playing organized soccer in the U.S. before her family moved back to Israel when she was six.
“We moved back to Israel, and that’s when I started to play soccer with the boys there,” Sommer said. “For the first six years of my career, I played for Maccabi Tel Aviv, which is a football club in Israel, and I was the only girl in the league and only girl on the team.”
At that time in Israel, there was no real platform for girls youth soccer. If girls wanted to play, they would have to compete against the boys and play on the same teams. Sommer said even then, it was looked upon as “taboo” for girls to play what many saw as a “masculine sport.” Despite being the only girl in her school to play, Sommer continued because it brought her joy. She even said playing against boys at a young age helped her athletic development.
“That was kind of a big deal then, but I think it was one of the things in my career that helped me become the player that I am today,” Sommer said. “I had stayed in only for the love of it, the pure pure love of it, because everyone else was kind of against that.”
Talia Sommer scored three goals in a 3-0 win against IUPUI on Aug. 31. Photo by Andrew Buckley.
At the age of 12, Sommer was on the move again, back to New York City to follow her father, who is a political science professor, on a two-year sabbatical. During those two years, she played for Manhattan Soccer Club before she traveled back to Tel Aviv in Israel.
When she arrived back in Israel at 14, she took the biggest leap of all and went pro for ASA Tel Aviv, a club in the Israeli Women’s Premier League. During her time at the club, she won the Israeli Women’s Premier League Championship along with the National Cup. Her time playing professionally prepared her for her time at Butler, but she says it’s very different from college soccer in the United States.
“Playing in Israel means that I play with players who are five, 10, 15 years older than me who have that many years of experience over me as well,” Sommer said. “College soccer in America was a complete step forward for me. Even if the players are not 10 years older than me, they’re more gifted technically, athletically [and] tactically.”
So how did a player from Israel find her way to central Indiana to play for the Bulldogs? Fate, and the NCAA rankings system.
“It’s actually a funny story,” Sommer said. “I was just looking through the rankings and said ‘Butler! That seems interesting.’ So I sent [coaches] Rob and Tari a message after I watched their games and was impressed with how they play.”
Sommer proceeded to send her highlight reel to both of the head coaches in hopes of attaining a scholarship to attend Butler. Alman was the one to review her game tape, and he was amazed at what he saw.
“It’s very rare that you just sit and watch a highlight package and [say], ‘We need this player to come,’” Alman said. “It was instant [with Talia].”
While reviewing the game footage, Alman was convinced he had seen her play before, but he did not know where. After meeting with Sommer and hearing that she played for Manhattan Soccer Club in New York City, Alman finally pieced it together.
“The fact that she had been in the States in her early teen years, she was involved with some [Olympic Development Program] stuff, and I had actually seen her play … such a unique movement pattern with how she moves on the ball, just instantly I’m like, ‘I’ve seen her play,’” Alman said.
The praise for the midfielder didn’t stop there when Alman described her as “a really fun player to watch play.” He talked about how she always wants to be involved in the buildup and wants the ball at her feet at all times. Some may think this comes across as selfish. Alman said he sees it as leadership.
“She’s got the onfield influence already in terms of the competitive nature [and] the way that she trains, that enthusiasm [and] the way that she competes in games,” Alman said. “[She is] someone that people look to in big moments and has all those influences.”
Sommer’s first season on campus proved what Alman saw on tape — she is a difference-maker. She racked up stat after stat on her way to winning Big East Freshman of the Year and making the All-Big East Second Team. While the accolades at the college level have come, they are not her main motivation.
“I am so passionate about being successful in [soccer],” Sommer said. “There’s no real like, ‘Oh, I want to do it to be famous. I want to do it to have money.’ It’s just for the sole purpose of doing it because I love this game.”
Sommer’s love for the game extends to the international stage, where she has played for Israel on several occasions. Last season, she traveled back and forth to Israel multiple times to represent her country. While it was difficult to balance her schoolwork and commitment to Butler’s team, the pride she feels representing her nation makes it all worth it.
“Playing for the national team is one of the most special things that soccer players can do,” Sommer said. “I’m so proud to represent my country, my family, where I’m from and doing the thing that I love too is the best-case scenario for me.”
Sommer has played against respected teams like Germany and Portugal, both of which were featured in this year’s Women’s World Cup. She knows it’s a valuable experience for her to be able to play against world-class players at such a young age.
Talia Sommer signs posters for fans after Butler’s game against Baylor on Sept. 3. Photo by Jonathan Wang.
In spite of all the accolades and success Sommer has garnered, one of the greatest things she has gained is the relationship she has with her teammates. Sophomore midfielder Amelie Darey is one of those teammates who shares the midfield with Sommer and described her as “a genuine person.”
“You wouldn’t want anyone else to be your teammate,” Darey said. “Always there to listen … when the moment comes down to it, she’ll still be there.”
Darey and Sommer met in England two years before arriving on Butler’s campus while they were both on trial for Chelsea F.C.. Darey, an England native, explained that every year, Chelsea brings over a few international players to train on a trial basis, and Sommer was one of those players.
“We actually played on the same team, and [Talia] scored all the goals for our team,” Darey said. “So I knew from day one she was good.”
Sommer’s life story weaves through different continents, teams and levels of soccer, but one thing always remains the same: she just wants to play soccer.
“I do the sport because I love it,” Sommer said. “When I play soccer, I feel 100% completely Talia.”