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First-year Othello goalkeeper learns to fit in with team, local area

by IAN BIVONA
Sports Reporter | April 4, 2024 1:45 AM

OTHELLO — Guarding the net for the Othello boys soccer team this season has been senior Aksel Jebsen, who’s been using his 6-foot-8 frame to break up opposing shots in the early weeks of the season.

Even though he’s a senior, this is Jebsen’s first year playing with the Huskies. In fact, this is his first year in the country.

“I’ve been always interested in American culture — of course, you’ve seen the things in the movies, the Hollywood productions — but I have had ancestors living here,” Jebsen said. “My dad was an immigrant and moved here for four years, and then moved back to Norway. I always wanted to experience American daily life.”

Jebsen, an exchange student, grew up in Trondheim, a city in central Norway that was established over 1,000 years ago. Trondheim has a population of 182,000 people, marking a stark contrast to Othello.

“The moment I landed here, I knew it was going to be different,” Jebsen said. “Of course, I’ve seen the Walmarts and the McDonalds — I’ve always wanted to try that and it was super cool trying that — but you have different cultures everywhere. I’d say the small-town culture is everybody cares about everybody here.”

Even though this is Jebsen’s first year with the Huskies, he is familiar with soccer.

“I always played goalkeeper,” Jebsen said. “The tall guy, the big guy, is always goalkeeper – that’s kind of the culture around soccer youth. I just embraced it, being so tall. I had a little growth spurt in my youth, when I was 13 or 14. My dad always said I was fearless in the goal … I just threw myself around when other goalkeepers didn't when they were young. That helped me love soccer.”

There were some big changes to adapt to in both soccer and basketball, which he suited up for in the winter on Othello’s varsity team.

“Sports are clubs, and mostly based on area – not school-specific,” Jebsen said. “Through the school, there’s a lot more money and resources going into it. Having senior banners was so cool, because you wouldn’t have that in Norway. It’s just, you play the sports and have to pay a little bit of money for it.”

Jebsen’s large frame has already been shown to be effective through Othello’s first 10 games of the season, Othello head coach Bernie Garza said. 

“There were some shots where it should have been a goal,” Garza said. “I was like, ‘Oh, it’s a goal.’ Then he takes two steps back, jumps up and hits it over the crossbar. Any other keeper, that would have been a goal. Or some low to the post – with that wingspan to the corner, he’s covered a lot of shots this year.”

Jebsen filled in for Othello junior Ismael Torres, who started in the net last season. Torres suffered an injury late in the wrestling season, but Garza said the junior is expected to return in the coming weeks.

“With (Jebsen’s) experience and his size, I knew he was going to be a goalie,” Garza said. “But we didn’t know if he was going to be a backup goalie, JV goalie — to what extent. Now that we have him as our varsity goalie, he’s done some stuff that we’re not accustomed to doing, and he’s getting better at stuff that he wasn’t good at.”

Looking to learn more about American culture, Jebsen said he’s been ingraining himself in some of the local ways of life.

“I’ve been partaking in that culture,” Jebsen said. “I bought cowboy boots, I bought a cowboy hat. I wanted to visit the North 40 (Outfitters) up in Moses Lake because it seems so cool there. I’ve also been to the rodeo — the rodeo was amazing.”

Between mini golfing, hanging out with classmates and teammates, attending Friday night football games, partaking in American holiday traditions and learning Spanish from his soccer teammates, Jebsen said one of the biggest things that has stood out has been the willingness to welcome him with open arms.

“Norwegians are very reserved – they like keeping stuff to ourselves,” Jebsen said. “That doesn’t seem to be the case there.”

Jebsen has been in Othello for eight months, and will return to Norway in two months to complete his education, he said. After he graduates, Jebsen said a return to eastern Washington isn’t out of the question.

“It’s been an amazing experience, and I thank Othello and beyond for that,” Jebsen said. 

Ian Bivona may be reached at ibivona@columbiabasinherald.com.

    Othello senior Aksel Jebsen, left, works on a passing drill during a March 25 practice. Jebsen said classmates, teammates and coaches have been very welcoming to him during his year at Othello High School.
 
 
    Othello senior Aksel Jebsen, right, practices blocking shots during a March 25 practice. Jebsen stands at six-foot-eight, making him an obstacle for opposing teams on the attack.