Oliwia Wos’ decision to play soccer in America is hard for her to explain. The idea came up a few times while being recruited, but she never truly considered this option until one morning.
“I woke up one day in December and I knew I wanted to come to America,” Wos said. “It was really weird. The days before I was like, ‘Hell no, what is that? That’s just an adventure maybe, but that’s not something I really want to pursue,’ but then I did it. I don’t know what happened on this night, really. One good night sleep and I was like ‘America.’”
After growing up playing soccer in Germany and being a native of Olesno, Poland, the idea to play in America first came from being recruited by colleges. She would receive texts and emails from coaches recruiting her, but felt this wasn’t personal enough.
That all changed when a coach from Wake Forest approached her in person to see if Wos wanted to play soccer in the United States.
“This was such a different thing for me because if somebody comes to you in person, you see they really want you,” Wos said.
Wos decided to do some digging to find out if America was for her. She ultimately decided to play her freshman year of soccer at Wake Forest where she started 13 games at center back. She helped lead the back line for the Demon Deacons that advanced to the third round of the NCAA tournament.
“I had a great time at Wake,” Wos said. “Even if soccer wasn’t the way I wanted it to be, I still had a great time. I grew as a person, mostly, not as a player. I wish I played more, but that’s just how it is.”
As an assistant at Duke, current Indiana head coach Erwin van Bennekom was able to see Wos play for Wake Forest last year. Van Bennekom expresses that while some people play soccer in college then go work in the real world, Wos could have bigger plans.
“I think she is a pro in the making,” van Bennekom said. “I think she came here knowing that we’re going to help her with that. Our staff’s connections, my connections in the pro-world overseas will help her and the way we play and the way we develop players.”
Van Bennekom has experience as a head coach for multiple Women’s Premier Soccer League teams, as well as playing experience in the first division of the National Futsal League in Holland from 2002-04. He was also a member of Holland’s youth academy system growing up.
Since arriving at IU, Wos has stepped in as a hardworking player and has already gained the respect of the team. She has also brought something that van Bennekom didn’t necessarily expect while recruiting her: swagger.
“If the other team looks over their shoulder, sees us warm up, and they see Oliwia with the tattoo, it’s a big personality," he said, smiling. "There’s something about having a little bit of swagger, and that’s what she has. She brings something to our team, some personality. She’s different, she’s outgoing, and I think our team really likes her.”
Before Wos had the chance to show her teammates what she could do on the field, she made a lasting impact without stepping foot on Jerry Yeagley Field. Leading up to Indiana’s season opener, Wos and her teammates shared stories and opened up to each other to become closer as a team.
Wos told her teammates they can always trust her and she will always be there for them. This sentiment stuck with the team and propelled Wos into a role as a vocal leader for the team.
“I think if you do that at the beginning of a season, it opens up the whole team,” Wos said. “I don’t know how to describe it. It’s just honesty and being together all the time.”
Upon her arrival at Indiana, Wos didn’t wait long to make an impact, scoring the game-winning goal in the 87th minute versus UT-Martin in the team’s sixth game of the season:
Here's a ? at the game-winner in the 87th minute from Wos, who picked a perfect time for her first career goal. pic.twitter.com/Oj2PN3I1A1
— Indiana Women's Soccer (@IndianaWSOC) September 13, 2019
For Wos, her mindset in simple; she just plays soccer.
“The feeling when you step on the field, you just want to play soccer,” Wos said. “You have nothing else. Just play the ball, win games and put the most effort in.”
Before she even played a match in a Hoosier uniform, Wos was receiving recognition, named to the Big Ten's preseason honors list. And in her first season with Indiana, Wos has already stepped into a big role. Starting in 12 of the team’s 14 games at center back, Wos also has the responsibility to take the team’s corner and free kicks.
“Having those little situations like corner taking, stepping to the header, these are my moments, this is why I play at IU,” Wos said. “That’s why I am the center back because of those strengths I have and I love to use them for the team.”
While van Bennekom thinks Wos has been inconsistent at times taking the team’s set pieces, he is still very confident in her ability.
“I think the consistency is what we want to bring in,” van Bennekom said. “But I think she has something different than most players here.”
In the team’s 1-0 win over Minnesota on Oct. 6, Wos showed why she is such an important player for the team in multiple ways. In the 36th minute, she was nearly 10 yards from midfield when she saw a sprinting Chandra Davidson make a run towards the box:
— Indiana Women's Soccer (@IndianaWSOC) October 6, 2019
“I was thinking it was about time to play this long ball to Chandra,” Wos said. “She deserves to score this goal. She needed that to just prove that she can score goals because she is just awesome.”
Wos then lofted a pass nearly 50 yards through the air. Davidson let the ball bounce once before she drove the ball past goalkeeper Maddie Nielsen and into the bottom left corner of the net.
“I just saw her waving and I was just played this ball,” she said. “One touch and I was just happy how she scored. It was awesome.”
Wos said she felt the team needed more space to score at that point in the game and sometimes it is necessary to play a long pass in order to get the other team to back up. Van Bennekom thinks plays like this show how Wos is getting better on the ball.
“Obviously she got a great left foot on that pass from her,” van Bennekom said. “Getting her first assist here, I’m very happy for her as well.”
Van Bennekom thinks Wos growing up in Germany and being around Polish soccer culture helped her development as a player from an early age. He and Wos often have high-level conversations about strategy and team organization.
“She has a really good feeling for the game and understands what needs to happen,” van Bennekom said. “I think on the field she helps with that, and she has to. Oliwia is not the best all-around athlete so her understanding of the game has to be at a really high level for her to be able to compete.”
Not only has Wos made important contributions in communication and passing the ball, she has also played a role in the team’s recent defensive success. The Hoosiers earned three consecutive shutouts in Big Ten play in their stretch of games versus Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota. This marked the team’s longest streak of the season.
“We know that we have our defensive shape and our defensive organization and if we go 1-nil up, I think teams will have a hard time getting back in the game,” van Bennekom said.
During this three-game stretch, Wos and her teammates have focused on three main things defensively: organization, stepping to the ball and communication.
“We talk constantly,” Wos said. “Without communication you can’t do anything, it’s the key in the backline.”
Wos finds communication especially important when she directs the right and left backs, as well as spacing in central midfield. In her opinion, nothing will work without this communication and teamwork.
“We have to shift all the time,” Wos said. “Even with repeating yourself 10 times, you have to do that.”
For van Bennekom, wins like the three versus Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota are how he envisions this team having success.
“We knew all year long that for us to be successful and win games, it’s by us defending deep, being compact and then counter attacking,” van Bennekom said.
While the team has recently leaned on defense to win games, van Bennekom doesn’t want people to think the team is just kicking the ball forward and going after it. Because of a lack of depth, van Bennekom agrees with Wos that the team has to focus on organization.
“We want to pick the right times and be organized in other times,” van Bennekom said. “I think the last couple games we have been getting better and better and the nice part about getting better and better is that the results eventually come with them.”
The Hoosiers have now won three of their past four games in Big Ten play, and Wos has been a major part of that success, leading a defensive unit that has only given up one goal in that span.
For Wos, this Indiana team controls its destiny.
“You make your difference,” she said. “If you work hard and if you want this, everything can be easier. The way you play is all about how much work you put in.”