Sac State goalie rebounds from ACL injury

Aaliyah Fesili earned Big Sky Goalkeeper of the Year


Patrick Posuniak

Aaliyah Fesili, goalkeeper for Sac State’s women’s soccer team, warms up with head coach Randy Dedini at a socially distanced practice on Thursday Oct 8th, 2020. Fesili earned Goalie Of The Year in the Big Sky Conference last season.

Jason Gallardo

Last season, Sacramento State redshirt junior soccer player Aaliyah Fesili was named Big Sky Goalkeeper of the Year and named to All-Big Sky Conference First team, after not being able to play the year before due to injury. 

Fesili grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii with her mom, dad and three younger brothers in their one-bedroom apartment. 

“It was tough growing up,” Fesili said. “We didn’t have everything. My mom didn’t work for a long time, and it was just my dad.” 

Fesili said she idolized her parents because of the sacrifices they made.

“It was tough providing for four children on his own,” Fesili said. “My dad always made sacrifices in that aspect. We barely saw him. My mom was a supporting role for both my father and our family.” 

Fesili started playing soccer at 6 years old. She tried other sports, but said soccer was her calling. She didn’t have a normal childhood outside of sports, having to help out her family. 

“Because in our culture, she is the oldest of our kids and has a lot of responsibilities other girls her age [don’t] have,” Andrena Fesili said. “While other girls went out to the mall, she stayed home and helped us with her brothers so we could work. She was the caretaker. Only soccer was her outside activity.”

Aaliyah Fesili posing with her mom, dad and three brothers. Fesili was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. Photo courtesy of Aaliyah Fesili

The added responsibility on Fesili didn’t stop her from helping her Hawaii Surf Soccer Club win the US Club Soccer Hawaii State Cup. During her senior year, Fesili said she knew she needed a scholarship if she wanted to continue playing soccer.

Fesili received interest from many schools, but Sac State women’s soccer coach Randy Dedini offered her a full-ride scholarship after scouting her at a camp. 

“When I was out in Hawaii, I was talking to a friend of mine who is a director for a pretty big soccer club out in Hawaii,” Dedini said. “I was just asking him, ‘Hey, I’m going to need a goalkeeper.’ He said ‘I got one for you.’ He said she rarely travels out to the states or mainland because the family can’t afford to send her to the big tournaments, so no one really knew about her except for maybe the University of Hawaii.” 

Fesili, the first in her family to attend college, said it took time for her to adjust when she arrived at Sac State. 

“There was a difference in culture,” Fesili said. “Especially when it comes to talking to one another. We are very personable. We love to talk about stories and talk for days. Out here, people are just straight to the point. I think it’s a little more cutthroat out here than back home for me.”

As a freshman, Fesili started as a reserve, but became the starting goalkeeper in the third match of the season against California State University, Fresno. Fesili earned back-to-back Big Sky Defensive player of the week after shutting out Eastern Washington University and the University of Idaho on the road. 

Although Fesili had great success, it came at a high cost. In the middle of her freshman year, Fesili tore her ACL during a game with Eastern Washington. She played the entire season in the injury, not realizing it was torn.

“Basically, two months after the season, I got my MRI,” Fesili said. “It was completely shredded and gone.” 

Fesili received surgery and was in rehabilitation for eight months. Though Fesili was ready to play in time for conference, she and Dedini decided it was best to redshirt the rest of the season.

“Just taking her off of ACL rehab situation, where she was rehabbing for 10 to 11 months and to immediately put her in the game, I just felt like it was too risky for her,” Dedini said.

Sac State finished the 2018 season with a 3-13-2 record. Fellow Sac State soccer player Ariana Nino said she noticed a shift in Fesili’s attitude when she was redshirting.

“Before, she was a leader who had a positive influence on our team, to then having feelings like she was an outcast due to her inability to play,” Nino said. “Her emotions were like a rollercoaster, sometimes she was happy, and then other times she was sad and frustrated that she couldn’t play or even go on team travels.” 

Fesili said she ramped up her training schedule during the offseason before her junior year to help catch back up. 

“What helped me the most was the summer before the fall season,” Fesili said. “I went out twice a day and sometimes three times a day to put in extra work. And I decided to have fun. Sitting out a year will do that to you.” 

Nino said Fesili resumed a leadership position when she returned.

“She not only played for our team, but she also played for herself,” Nino said. “When she got back, she wanted to prove to herself that she was good again, that she is sufficient as a goalkeeper, and she definitely did that. She leads our team with her strong attitude and her competitiveness.”

Fesili earned Big Sky Goalkeeper of the Year and All-Big Sky first team, and had ten shutouts — the most in Sac State history. Sac State finished with a record of 11-2-6, setting a new Big Sky Conference record with a 17-match unbeaten streak. 

Fesili said her mission is to one day provide for her family.

“I reminded myself if I continue what I’m doing, my parents won’t have to work as hard later,” Fesili said. “I’m super grateful and inspired by my family.”