Kristelle Yewah, forever a Spartan
For senior forward and East Lansing native Kristelle Yewah, playing soccer at MSU wasn’t originally apart of her plans, though you would think that someone would dream to play the sport they loved on the college campus they were basically raised on.
Instead, the homegrown product focused all her attention on a school located about one hour south of MSU, a school where the colors blue and yellow are sported by its inhabitants instead of green and white, a school that creates contempt in these parts every time its name is uttered; the University of Michigan.
While Yewah was always physically present in East Lansing, her spirit was stationed in Ann Arbor. If you know anything about the sporting rivalry between MSU and U of M, you will understand why that might not sit well with people who pledge their allegiance to the Spartans.
The interstate rivalry between the two schools exists in mostly all of the schools’ varsity sports – especially in football and basketball – and is well documented as the two institutions have played each other over 107 times in those respective sports dating back to 1898
Despite living near MSU throughout her entire life, Yewah did not attend an MSU football game until she committed there halfway through high school.
“I used to watch them on TV but my dad was never a fan so (he) never really let me go,” Yewah said.
The early years
Yewah began playing soccer at just four years old, and the game runs deep in the senior’s family.
“I have an older brother and sister who started playing soccer before me,” Yewah said via text message. “My aunt was the coach of a soccer team and let me play with the older kids and I did pretty well so I thought I would try the sport out.”
Although Yewah did not always envision herself playing soccer at MSU, she always knew that she wanted to play at the collegiate level. Yewah really developed her passion for the sport while playing for TNT Dynamite, a local club team in Lansing, and serving as a ball girl for MSU.
“That’s when I started to say in my mind, ‘one day I think I want to be one of these girls,’” Yewah said.
Yewah continued to play soccer at Okemos High School and went on to become one of the most decorated athletes in the school’s history. The Okemos alumna was a four-time all-district and all-conference honoree, and a four-year letter winner in basketball showing her versatility as an athlete.
Brian Guggemos, Okemos boy’s and girl’s soccer head coach, noted how advanced Yewah was in comparison to her peers on the field from an athletic standpoint.
“Boy or girl, she’s probably the best forward that I have ever had,” Guggemos said.
“She was just tough as nails and she wore down opponents,” Guggemos said. “Even as a freshman or sophomore she was gifted, she was a gifted athlete.”
Along with always having the ability to display her dominance on the field in a physical manner, Yewah is equipped the mental capacity required of elite players, said MSU Soccer Head Coach Tom Saxton.
“She’s very composed and doesn’t get flustered easily, and brings an even temperament to our team both on and off the field,” Saxton said.
While raking up individual awards during her tenure in high school, the forward accumulated her fair share of team accomplishments along the way, too, as she helped the team reach the state championship her sophomore year and semifinals her senior year.
Yewah was a tireless worker throughout her high school career, said Guggemos, and left her stamp on Okemos.
“She obviously was a prolific scorer for me,” Guggemos said. "She did a lot of hard work and it was a pleasure coaching her, there’s no doubt about it.”
After completing a stellar high school career, Yewah decided to give the team she grew up rooting against a chance when assigned the task of choosing a college to continue her soccer career and education.
“Realizing I’m a Michigan fan, I was like I guess I don’t really know too much about MSU, so let’s figure it out,” Yewah said.
Overcoming obstacles at MSU
While Yewah was a prolific goal scorer in high school – scoring 20 goals during her senior year – that didn’t automatically translate to the collegiate level when she arrived at MSU.
The senior never started a game for the MSU women’s soccer team in either of her first two years on campus, and did not score her first collegiate goal until Sept. 25, 2015 against Michigan – the team she adored in her youth.
“It’s hard going from high school to college,” Yewah said. “Obviously in high school it’s so much easier because you’re probably faster and bigger than most people, and then you come to college and everyone’s literally the same as you.”
Despite her early struggles as a Spartan, Yewah decided to stick it out and continue to try and refine her skills. Guggemos attributes her decision to staying with the women’s soccer program at MSU to her determined mentality and her never-quit attitude.
“She played right away because she always gave that great effort, but it wasn’t like she stepped on campus and was a starter right from day one, she had to keep grinding,” Guggemos said.
The summer after her sophomore season, Yewah ventured into playing club soccer in an effort to polish up her game and mentally and physically prepare herself for her junior year.
“With soccer it’s hard to get in shape just by running, so I think the best way to get into soccer shape is to play a soccer game,” Yewah said.
Yewah played for Michigan Chill SC, an amateur soccer club playing in the Women’s Premier Soccer League, under coach Jorge Eufracio.
Eufracio not only raved about Yewah’s abilities coming into the season with the club team, but also about the improvements she made over the course of that summer, such as her mobility and scoring ability, along with working on her conditioning.
“She’s very strong and can hit the ball really hard, she has a lot of power,” Eufracio said.
“By the end of our season she said that was the best shape she’s ever been in,” he added.
In the summer of 2016, Eufracio recruited five MSU women’s soccer players – including Yewah – to play for Michigan Chill. One of those players included senior forward and current teammate of Yewah’s, Jamie Cheslik.
Yewah noted how playing with Cheslik and a few of her other MSU teammates that summer helped their chemistry heading into the subsequent season.
“It was good because we kind of got to build in the summer and bring that to MSU,” Yewah said. “Jamie and I played together and we both play up top so we got to work on it in a different setting and then bring in what we learned.”
Club soccer paid off for Yewah, as she was inserted into the starting lineup during her junior season, and started in all of the 13 games she played in. Yewah has started in all seven games the Spartans have played this season, and recorded her second career collegiate goal against Samford.
The Next Chapter
As Yewah’s time at MSU winds down, the senior from East Lansing ponders what her everyday life will be like when she’s no longer wearing the green and white jersey with ‘Spartans’ written across the chest.
“It’s so weird, I think about it literally every day I wake up in the morning,” Yewah said. “It’s going to be in the past, so I think it’s going to be pretty weird because I’ve been playing soccer since I was four years old.”
Yewah will take a year off after she graduates and apply to dental schools and while she doesn’t quite know what she will do during her time off from school, her former coaches are confident that she will be successful in any route she chooses.
“She has always had a great personality, she’s outgoing, I think kids love being around her, her teammates love being around her and that’s no different than when you go onto job,” Guggemos said. “You want to work around people that have that positive energy, that carry themselves the right way, and she’s certainly one of those people.”
“Her interpersonal relationship skills are as good as I’ve ever seen, she’s not an outgoing person but she can engage people and communicate with them and bring out the best in people as well as anybody I’ve ever coached,” Saxton said. “The ability to connect with folks in her own way is going to be critical and she will have that quality.”
“She has been in sports for so many years, she has the winning mentality, she’s familiar with becoming better and improving; she’s going to be a great person and in any area she wants to work at” Eufracio said.
The East Lansing native has grown fond to the MSU community over her four years at the university despite her initial fandom for its rival school.
“Everyone’s just so friendly honestly,” Yewah said. “There are so many different types of people and every type of person could probably find a place to fit in here.”
Yewah’s time as an athlete at MSU may be coming to an end, but her time as a Spartan is not.
“I just think it’s really cool that Spartans know they always stick together no matter what,” Yewah said.