Ex-Cats

Kentucky’s Raetzman enjoying best-case pro scenario

Courtney Raetzman (15) of the Chicago Red Stars took a shot at the Houston Dash goal during a match in April at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.
Courtney Raetzman (15) of the Chicago Red Stars took a shot at the Houston Dash goal during a match in April at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston. Wilf Thorne/isiphotos.com

Getting drafted to play a sport professionally is a blessing. Being drafted by the hometown team is a dream come true.

Former University of Kentucky soccer midfielder Courtney Raetzman is enjoying that very experience after she was drafted in January by the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League.

I only hoped at the very least that Chicago, since that’s where I’m from, I was hoping that maybe I would get picked up by them and be able to play in front of my family and friends.

Courtney Raetzman, Chicago Red Stars midfielder

Coming off a senior season at UK in which she earned All-Southeastern Conference First Team honors, Raetzman was prepared to explore overseas options to continue her playing career but was surprised and grateful to be given a chance to play in the United States in Chicago.

“So I did enter my name not knowing if I would get drafted or not,” Raetzman said. “I only hoped at the very least that Chicago, since that’s where I’m from, I was hoping that maybe I would get picked up by them and be able to play in front of my family and friends.”

Raetzman was drafted in the fourth round, No. 32 overall.

Raetzman didn’t always have time to support the Red Stars as she spent most of her time at UK, but she did pay more attention once her Kentucky teammate Arin Gilliland was acquired by the team in 2015. A year later, Raetzman finds herself in the same position and has Gilliland to help the transition.

“Just to look up to her and try to get feedback,” Raetzman said. “Basically just to look to her for guidance, I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Along with Gilliland, Raetzman also has the pleasure of playing with three U.S Women’s National Team members in Chicago in Julie Johnston, Christen Press and Alyssa Naeher.

You want to earn the respect of your teammates and want them to look to you as someone who can contribute.

Courtney Raetzman, Chicago Red Stars midfielder

After watching them play, Raetzman had to make the shift to viewing them as peers, whichwas difficult at first. “You want to earn the respect of your teammates and want them to look to you as someone who can contribute,” she said. “As weeks went on it just got better.”

Through eight of 20 games, the Red Stars (4-1-3) are tied for first place in the NWSL. Raetzman has played in three games. The Red Stars return to action Saturday at Boston. NWSL games are broadcast on the league’s YouTube channel.

With all the adjustments that come with playing professionally, performing in her hometown has eased the transition.

The NWSL, which was launched in 2013, has made strides but still lacks some traditional pro sports amenities — most notably, large player salaries. With minimum wages starting at a little less than $7,000 per season, players entering the league can have trouble investing full-time in a professional career.

NWSL salaries range from $6,842 to $37,800, which is made by international level players. These salaries are for a six-month season that runs from April to September.

Raetzman has been helped by the fact that her parents’ home in the Chicago suburb of Elk Grove Village, Ill., is only an hour from downtown, so she has moved back in with them. Without worries of rent or other expenses, Raetzman has been able to focus on just playing, but she hopes for a better future in the league.

“Really just representing the league will make things better,” she said. “I think things will get better. Obviously, we would like them to improve faster than what they may be at, but at least it’s growing and at least we are starting to get out there more. It’s kind of a slow process, but I think years down the road it will be a lot better.”

Anthony Crawford: 859-231-1627, @a_craw_

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