By Ross Forman – Isabella “Izzy” Solano is a fighter, a right-handed shooting junior forward for the co-op Warren Township girls’ team. But the battles she faces on the ice, especially with less than four years of skating experience, pale in comparison to those she’s fought – and won – off the ice.
Solano was born January 1, 2004, almost four months early (at 26 weeks), and weighed 2.6 pounds. She stayed in the NICU at Evanston Hospital, in an incubator, for three months. In addition:
- She endured several hours of physical therapy weekly for the first three years of her life.
- She was diagnosed with a learning disability at age 7, and later was enrolled in ballet, tap dancing, jazz, Tae Kwon Do and horseback riding to help with her learning disability.
- She was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome at age 10.
- She had severe asthma when she was younger, but it has gotten better in her teens.
“Since I was so premature, my lungs hadn’t fully developed and I was diagnosed with asthma and I had pretty severe attacks growing up,” she said. “During one of my checkups for my asthma, I was diagnosed with Tourette’s. While mine isn’t as severe as others, you can notice it when I am nervous.
“My mom entered me into pageants at a young age which progressed into more intense pageants, which included talent, interview and answering pop questions. She did this so that I could work on presenting myself in a way that people wouldn’t always notice my Tourette’s. I’m not ashamed that I have it, but it was a good way to learn how to control my nervous twitches.
“I do have a talent from it … I can wiggle my eyebrows.”
Solano’s learning disability, diagnosed in first grade, was first thought to be ADHD, or ADD, but it is more of a comprehension and retaining of knowledge issue.
“I am very fortunate to have very supportive parents, grandparents and family who really try to help me in every area without making it too easy for me,” Solano said. “I work hard for what I accomplish, and I am proud of who I have become.
“I have received two Blue Devil Matter of Pride Awards in high school for making Warren Township High School a better place and academic excellence.
“I continue to struggle with my confidence. You need to be confident in your skating to be able to do your best. I really try to work on this daily.”
Solano’s hockey journey has been a fight too, especially having started in the sport only a few years ago. Give credit for her on-ice accolades to her passion for floor hockey.
“I had been playing floor hockey through grade school, but Warren doesn’t offer it. I attended the athletic night for Warren when I was in eighth grade and met Warren girls’ hockey team assistant coach Manny Ballestero and a few of the team’s players. He explained to me that even though I didn’t know how to skate, he would teach me. He introduced me to Annie Lichter, who had also not skated prior to joining the hockey team. After talking with Manny, I got really excited about the opportunity.”
She played her first game in the spring of 2019. “I put on all of my gear, went on to the ice, warmed up and then went to the bench,” Solano said. “I wasn’t expecting to play, but Manny was adamant that I was going to go play. I was nervous! I said, ‘What?! No!’
“I was so scared because the game was so fast, and these ladies were skating up and down like it was nothing. I could hardly get to the blue line before I was called offsides. It was scary!”
Solano has improved, admittedly, not being able to skate at all to a confident stick handler.
“At the end of last season, I was feeling very good about my skating skills and stick handling … and I scored a few goals and had some nice plays. My confidence increased quite a bit last year. Now I need to continue building my skills and my confidence.”
Ballestero still recalls Solano’s first game. “She was terrified, but I told her to relax and just do her best,” he said. “We had other beginners on the team too, so the first few shifts we let the beginners stay on the bench and listen to what we as coaches were saying to the more experienced players and to see the speed of the game.
“We were playing 4-on-4 full ice at the Wilmette Ice Arena. After a few minutes I looked at Izzy and said, ‘OK, you’re next.’ She looked at me like I was insane. I told her that I had confidence in her and it did not matter what she did when she got out on the ice – it just mattered that she got out there. And she did.
“Just getting out there was a huge success.”
Ballestero added, “With every hockey success she has come another great memory for her and a better hockey player for Warren.”
Solano had 1 goal, 4 assists as a freshman.
Naturally, Solano is excited – and a bit nervous – for this, her third season.
“We have become a more cohesive team. We are all growing and developing our skills so we will be ready for that first game,” Solano said. “The team is pretty diverse because it has some pretty experienced players to players like me who have just recently learned to skate. The players have a lot of heart and desire to learn the game and play it as well as we can, as a team. They are supportive of one another and the player’s parents are supportive as well. We have some great goalies, a few really fast skaters and, overall, a team that is in the process of growing into a strong team.”
Warren assistant coach Steve Fragassi said Solano is a “great teammate, always positive.” He said that her skating still needs work, but she has been able to contribute a lot in games because she has great hands. “Thanks to her floor hockey experience, her passing is very good, and she has a good shot. Near the end of last season, her confidence started to build more, and she began to successfully do more forechecking,” Fragassi said.
Solano, who lives in Park City, said her short-term goals are simple: finish high school, improve her hockey skills, get her driver’s license, and get a job.
Then she wants to look at college, trade school or the military to learn mechanics/engineering. She also wants to earn a real estate license.
“I have learned to persevere,” Solano said. “I talk with my coaches when I need help or encouragement and I rely on my teammates to play as a team and support each other.”
Solano’s advice is simple, too: “A challenge is a challenge, but you can overcome it.”
SLAPSHOTS WITH … ISABELLA “IZZY” SOLANO
Favorite NHL Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Favorite NHL Player: Patrick Kane
Favorite Sports-Themed Movie: Greater
Favorite Pregame Meal: “I don’t typically eat before, but I love Portillo’s after.”
Celebrity You’d Most Like to Meet: Billie Eilish
Favorite App: Tik Tok
Hockey Memory: “When I played with Michelle Byker, who was double rostered at the time, she would pass the puck to me for a breakout and it was the highlight of learning how to play as a team. This is how I was able to get one of my first goals freshman year.”
Best High School Jerseys (other than Warren): Glenbrook
Just the Facts:
- She started competing in non-glitz pageants for the Most Beautiful Baby Contest with New Star Discovery when she was 6 months old.
- She won a modeling photo shoot when she was 3 years old.
- She won several local and state titles for New Star Discovery.
- At age 5 she “retired” from modeling.
- She was a princess with the Miss Illinois Scholarship program for several years.
- She was 1st runner up for Teen Miss Waukegan in 2019.
- She was introduced to ice skating on New Year’s Eve when she was 5 and she cried the entire time.
- “Her parents, family and friends are incredibly proud of her for pursuing her dream of playing hockey. While it hasn’t always been an easy road, it has taught her to have patience, to listen, to ask questions and be an advocate for herself if she doesn’t understand something and to always display good sportsmanship,” said her mom, Renee Solano.
Ross Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at Rossco814@aol.com.