The Knights went far and wide over the last couple of year recruiting players to bolster an already diverse international roster, allowing UCF strategies to evolve far past an American style of play. Leading the charge for change in field dynamics are sophomore defender Katarina Naumanen and freshman defender Julia Ekholm.
Ekholm, a freshman from Stockholm, Sweden, has had a lot of experience playing for her country, progressing and playing for four different age groups of national teams. For Sweden’s U20 team, she has made starts against the United States, England and Japan. She was also a part of the 2015 U19 European Championship team.
“The coaches provide a different view of the fútbol,” Ekholm said. “It’s pretty different tactical fútbol. I think it’s important to experience both sides. It gets easier.”
Being able to play for UCF with an American style of play and then be able to compare it with European fútbol, Ekholm said, is a huge advantage for collegiate players. That way, when she plays the United States, she already knows what to expect and can adapt her gameplan for the Sweden national team.
“I was not that good when I was younger,” Ekholm said. “But then I developed and I came into that national team, and I have been there for I think three years now. It has been a huge experience, and I do not think I would be even close to being the player I am today if I did not have the resources that the national team provided me.”
Along with Ekholm, Christina Trickett joined the Knights roster Feb. 4 in the 2016 recruiting class announcement, joining an already shining group of players originating from around the world.
Trickett worked out with the U19 U.S. Women’s National Team at a training camp in northern California. The camp that was held in early March was a workout in preparation for the 2016 FIFA U20 Women’s World cup that will take place in Paupa, New Guinea, in November.
But the talent and patriotism doesn’t end with the freshmen players. Sophomore Katarina Naumanen of Finland battled for her country’s senior national team in the Cyprus Women’s Cup that was held over spring break in Turkey. Finland was up against Wales, the Republic of Ireland, Poland and the Czech Republic.
“The best advantage of being a part of a national team is the national team games,” Naumanen said. “The level of the games, even though it is under 20, it is always different than any other game. It is so much more physical because it is always about that one game, so it is kind of putting pressure on how you can succeed in that one moment.”
Other international Knights include some returning impact players. Before enrolling at UCF, sophomore Vera Varis, of Vantaa, Finland, played for the Finland Women’s National team and appeared in the 2014 U20 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Success is no stranger to the 5-foot-10 goalkeeper as her club team, FC Honka, won the 2014 National Championship. While at UCF, the European fútbol player was named an American Athletic Conference All-Rookie and to the AAC All-Tournament team.
A little bit up the field is junior Swedish defender Saga Fredriksson. Joining the Knights in 2014, the Malmo native collected three national championships with her club team, LdB FC Malmo. During her time playing at UCF, Fredriksson was named an AAC All-Rookie Team selection for her efforts in her rookie campaign. In her sophomore season, she was named Defensive Player of the Week for the AAC twice and also ranked second on the team for assists.
Then comes redshirt junior Kayla Adamek from our northern neighboring country, Canada. The Ottawa midfielder who, before joining UCF in 2013, was a member of the Canada U17 National Team and the 2012 FIFA U17 World Cup Camp, spent the 2014 season recovering from an injury. In 2015, after sitting out the 2014 campaign, she was named to the AAC First Team. She led the team in minutes played with 1,732. Tied for first on the team with six assists, Adamek also scored six goals.
Bicycle-kicking senior Carol Rodrigues from Brazil is the last of the international stars. The forward, originally from Juazeiro, Brazil, earned recognitions as the AAC Co-Offensive Player of the Year and First Team honoree.
She garnered national attention when she appeared in numerous programs, including SportCenter Plays of the Weekend, SportsCenter Top 10 and Fox Sports 1’s The One for a game-winning bicycle kick against Tulsa. Before joining the Knights, she was a member of the Brazil National Team in 2012 and was a member of the 2014 U20 World Cup team, appearing in six matches.
But like any good coach, head coach Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak understands what is going through the minds of her nine international players. Whether it is homesickness or learning a new culture, she has had some of her own experiences on foreign soil. Roberts Sahaydak played for the United States national team from 1994 to 2004, appearing in three Women’s World Cups. She was part of the 1999 championship team and collected a gold medal with the 1996 Olympics team.
“These are aspiring senior national team players that want to play in a Women’s World Cup one day,” Roberts Sahaydak said. “The fact that I have that background and have that experience and can connect with them that way and say, ‘I have been there I can show you the way,’ I think that helps.”
Evan Abramson is the Sports Editor for the Central Florida Future. You can follow him on Twitter at @Evan_Abramson and email him at EvanA@centralfloridafuture.
Matthew Saunders is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. You can follow him on Twitter at @ClassicSmit and email him at MatthewS@CentralFloridaFuture.com