By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
LEXINGTON, Ky. – There is a pre-season photo of two of Kentucky’s soccer players standing next to one another among their fellow freshmen teammates. Kelli Hubly, the taller of the two at 5-foot-9, rests her arm on the shoulder of teammate Courtney Raetzman’s 4-foot-11 frame.
There’s nothing unusual about the picture. In fact, among a collage of images from the team’s photo day, it looks much like all the others.
Except for one fact: those two teammates, both hailing from Elk Grove, Ill., have been appearing in photos together for better than 14 years.
“We went to preschool together but we didn’t really know each other until a couple of years later,” Hubly said. “We had brothers who were the same age and were on the same soccer team. We went to all the tournaments, so they put all of the younger siblings on a team. We were four the first time we played together. A couple of years later, looking through pre-school pictures, we saw one where we were sitting next to each other at a party.”
It was a Halloween party to be exact and it would be the beginning of a great friendship between the two.
“She was a witch for Halloween and I was a princess,” Raetzman said with a laugh. “We were literally sitting right next to each other.”
That camaraderie has just continued to grow over the past decade and a half.
“We’ve known each other our whole lives, so we’re basically just family,” Raetzman said. “I consider her a sister of mine. Our families are close. We definitely bring each other’s personalities out.”
The two went to different high schools in their hometown, but both played club soccer at Sockers F.C. in Chicago. Led by the duo, that team won the 2010 and 2011 Illinois Cup Championship.
As hard to believe as it might be, the decision to come to Kentucky was not a joint one.
“We didn’t go into the college decision-making process together,” Raetzman said. “One day, we were talking at our practice and asking each other what schools we were interested in. It happened by chance that we basically said all the same schools. We both visited Maryland and Kentucky. We talked to each other after our visits, but we weren’t planning to go to school together. We wanted to do what was a better fit for us, but if it worked out that we ended of as the same school, it would be what we dreamed of when we were little kids.
“When we thought of our lives when we were younger, we planned to be roommates when we went to college,” Raetzman continued. “It all fell into place.”
The final verdict came down to dinner at a restaurant that featured the perfect table cloth for a major decision.
“After we found out we both wanted to go to the same places, our parents took us out to dinner,” Hubly said. “You know those places that have tables with paper on them? We wrote down on the table the pros and cons and we both had our own list. We each made our own decisions at different times; Courtney did before me. We helped each other, but we made our own individual decisions.”
Fast forward to this past August.
The two friends fulfilled their childhood dream by becoming roommates and teammates at the University of Kentucky. And, not surprisingly, they are both in most of the same classes as pre-medicine majors.
“It’s the same major, but we’re going to do different things with it,” Hubly said. “We both like how the body works. Courtney is more physical therapy, while I am more pre-med, orthopedic surgery.”
The shared experiences have made the oft-difficult move from high school to college an easy one for the pair.
“The transition has been pretty smooth for both of us,” Raetzman said. “Coming here and already being so close, we just clicked. The way, we live, we already knew how to get along with each other. It’s been nice having Kelli here, she is so easy to talk to and already knows my whole history, family and everything about me. It is easier for us to push each other because we know each other so well, there are no hurt feelings. We can tell each other anything. It makes for a good working relationship.”
Hubly agreed, saying that living with and playing soccer alongside her best friend has greatly helped the transition. It has also helped the two buddies make outside friendships much easier.
“It just feels like one club tournament and we’re just rooming together,” Hubly said. “It doesn’t feel any different. I think it has helped us because we are able to be ourselves. Sometimes you go into a situation where you don’t know people and you’re not yourself. This has helped us be ourselves so that we can go branch off and meet other people. A lot of the other freshmen knew each other too, so it has been easy to get to know everyone. The upperclassmen have been super nice and supportive in welcoming us as well.”
As would be expected, Hubly and Raetzman have a great chemistry that makes for some fun road trips. One of their favorite activities is taking pictures of one another when their friend least expects it.
“We try to take very embarrassing pictures of each other when they’re not looking,” Hubly said. “We have wars of taking pictures of each other when they’re not looking.”
“We take the most embarrassing pictures of each other and post them,” Raetzman added. “We are completely embarrassing each other and ourselves, but it happens.”
Aside from their off-the-field antics, Hubly and Raetzman are both very serious soccer players. Together, they have combined for nine goals (nearly a third of the team’s total 28), six assists and 24 points.
Hubly is second on Kentucky’s team with five goals, including two game-winners on the season. She is known for her quickness and attacking ability from the forward position.
“Kelli is pretty much like the opposite of me,” Raetzman said. “She is a giant and very lanky; she is definitely really tough even with how skinny she is. She is extremely fast; I would not want to go 1 v. 1 against her. She has a way of beating people down the side of the field. I would not want to be the one to chase her. She is also extremely goofy and a huge supporter, and always helping me and giving me encouragement.”
Raetzman ranks third on the team with four goals, including two game-winners, and has four assists to her credit. She is strong technically and boasts a competitive drive that more than compensates for her height disadvantage.
“Courtney, she is tiny as we all know, but that’s very deceiving, because she is very aggressive and she will keep going at you,” Hubly said. “She is relentless and has probably the best foot skills I have ever seen. She really knows how to move the ball from one side of the field to another. If she falls down, she pops back up right away. It is comforting to have her behind me as the attacking mid[fielder].”
It’s no surprise that the deep bond of friendship born nearly 15 years ago has provided a noticeable spark to the Wildcats, who on Sunday won their seventh Southeastern Conference contest in a single year for the first time since the 1999 season.
“We’re so different in our styles of play that it meshes perfectly and has really helped us a lot,” Raetzman said. “We’re really goofy with each other and really just kind of feed off each other. It’s something people probably have to see in person.”