As the daughter of two former Gophers – dad a basketball player and mom a soccer player – it might have appeared Simone Kolander was destined to be a Gopher from the moment of conception. She grew into an athletic standout at Lakeville North High School, just a short drive south of the Twin Cities, but her talent was apparent from an early age. Minnesota coaches first contacted her about playing soccer for the Gophers when she was 14.
At that time, an understandably excited Kolander received a bit of advice from her father, who told her that the recruiting interest was great but the coaches were recruiting her potential. They didn’t want her as she was that day when she was 14, they wanted the player they felt she could become with four more years of hard work.
That’s something that stuck with Kolander, and something she would pass along to any young girl who asks how they could become the next great soccer player at the U of M.
“There are plenty of people who are good enough to play at this level, but they don’t have that passion to work hard, day in, day out,” said Kolander. “If you have the passion and you really love something … just go for it.
“That’s what I did and I’m happy every single day, whether I have a bad practice or a bad game or anything like that,” she added. “It’s just that love for the game and remembering why you started playing in the first place.”
She may be happy even if she has a bad game, but Kolander hasn’t had many of those in her Minnesota career. Last season, Kolander scored a team-high 10 goals and led the conference with six game-winners, accolades that earned her the Big Ten Forward of the Year award. She appeared on almost every list of the nation’s top players, earning an All-American nod from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
Just like that first contact with the Gopher coaches many years ago, those accomplishments are nice, but Kolander’s sights are set to the future.
“For myself and for the other five seniors [on the soccer team], this [season] is our last chance,” said Kolander. “Taking that motivation [from losing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament] and trying to spark the younger players to come along, I think this could be a very special year for us.”
While much of that motivation comes from within her, Kolander isn’t shy about praising other female student-athletes at Minnesota and discussing how they push her and her teammates to achieve more.
“You look at a few women’s programs here and girls that I’m friends with, girls that I’ve known since we first got on campus, they are achieving huge things with their teams,” said Kolander. “[They’re] winning Big Ten championships [and] national championships, and that’s really awesome for women’s sports.
“It lights a fire under the Gopher women’s soccer team because we want to be a great women’s program just like all those other teams. … We want to get that trophy. We want our names in the record books.”
Big Ten Forward of the Year