Gliding like an eagle on the wind, Katherine Koehler-Grassau runs across the field. She makes her way to the other side, passing an object from left to right, creating a pattern with each kick.
The intent is clear: one shot and one chance.
She launches the object and waits in anticipation. The ball leaves a trail of invisible smoke as it flies through the goal-posts and bounces off the back net. She runs over to the soccer ball and smiles. She repeats the process over again.
Koehler-Grassau was recently recognized as a UOIT Ridgebacks OUA [Ontario University Athletics] All-Star soccer player.
This is her fifth year receiving the title, making UOIT history.
“Honestly, it’s still unbelievable,” she says. “I still don’t understand how I won it to be honest. It’s pretty interesting and good to get that recognition. I guess it shows that they see you work hard on the field and put in that extra effort.”
Koehler-Grassau says she was introduced to soccer and sports at a young age.
“When I was younger, [I played] less, maybe three or four times a week,” she says. “Now it’s pretty much every day.”
Koehler-Grassau grew up in a family of fitness. “My family loves sports,” she says.
Her father played soccer at Wilfrid Laurier University and continues to play non-competitively once a week. Her mother played field hockey and dabbled on the ice. Her brother and two step-brothers all play basketball. But soccer is Koehler-Grassau’s main sport.
“I love how [soccer is] with your feet and very different from all other sports where you usually use your hands,” she says.
When she reflects on her younger years, Koehler-Grassau says she was excited to get on her first competitive team. She smiles and says her mother told her she wouldn’t make it: Koehler-Grassau was not aggressive enough for the sport.
“When I was little I was a bit more passive, I liked to watch the game,” she says. “I would kind of just stand out and wait for a pass.”
Koehler-Grassau plays centre mid or holding mid, sometimes centre back. She says she has learned a lot of skills since then: teamwork, communication and being demanding on the field.
And her coach agrees. Program Head Coach Peyvand Mossavat says, “the best way to describe Katherine is that she is a lead-by-example type of person.” Mossavat says Koehler-Grassau is a consistent, high-performer and this makes her valuable to the UOIT team.
Coach Mossavat says he recruited her at a high school soccer tournament. He discovered Koehler-Grassau’s academic marks were “in the high 90s” as a student athlete. He went to visit her and her family to sign Koehler-Grassau to the Ridgebacks.
“Here’s what’s going to happen in the next five years,” Coach Mossavat sat down and told her and her family. “You’re going to be Rookie of the Year, you’re going to be an OUA all-star, you’re going to be an All-Canadian and you’re going to play for Canada at [FISU] the World University Games. You’re going to be the captain of our team.”
“I’m from Ottawa and I’ve never heard of UOIT in my life,” she says. “I honestly never thought I would come here because I never heard of this school.”
Koehler-Grassau is now in her fifth year at UOIT.
In her last semester of the Applied Industrial Mathematics Program, she takes calculus, linear-based algebra and proof-based courses, all while peer-tutoring calculus and chemistry.
When asked about her earlier university games, Koehler-Grassau pauses and changes her tone. She says she began overthinking and having negative thoughts. As friendships started to form with her teammates, she began to worry less and learned to focus on the game at hand, rather, on the game at foot.
“I’m always trying to better myself for the team. I don’t ever look at myself but I look at what I can do to help the team succeed.”
Mikaela Tierney, a defender on the Ridgebacks soccer team, says her teammate Koehler-Grassau is always in the gym and pushing hard. Tierney says she is “super proud” of her friend and Koehler-Grassau has made her a better player.
“[I] thought she deserved (the All-Star title) 100 per cent,” she says confidently. “She carried the team sometimes and I think she’s earned everything she’s got. I was actually with her when she got the call and her reaction was not as excited. She’s very humble about it, I think I was more excited than her.”
In 2016, Koehler-Grassau and the Ridgebacks traveled to Nova Scotia to compete in nationals. They played against their longtime rival Queen’s University who is “tough to beat.”
“We won the game but it was a fight.” Koehler-Grassau recalls the atmosphere and connection on the field that led to their bronze medal win.
“In the last 90th minute or so, everyone’s breathing hard,” she says. “It’s hot out y’know and you can’t breathe but everyone is pushing for each other. Finishing that game with a win (was) pretty rewarding to see.”
With a sense of humility, Koehler-Grassau speaks about her other accomplishments, representing Canada in Taiwan and South Korea at the FISU [International University Sports Federation] games.
“It’s cool to go across seas and play against all these amazing teams,” she says, bright-eyed. “We played France and South Korea, Japan. Japan was so quick with the ball.”
Tryouts have begun for the next FISU games in Italy and Koehler-Grassau hopes to be one of the lucky 24 Canadians to claim a spot, again.
Coach Mossavat says Koehler-Grassau’s future is full of choices. “It’s bright,” he says.
Over the course of five years, every single prediction the coach made back when he recruited Koehler-Grassau has come true: Rookie of the Year (2014), OUA All-Star (2014 – 2018), two-time All-Canadian (2016, 2017), play for Canada at FISU the World University Games (2015 and 2017), captain of the Ridgebacks (2016, 2017 and 2018).
“For people like Katherine, this is the way of life. Whatever she does she will be successful because of who she is.”