OXFORD, Ohio – Though she was born in Canada and plays collegiately in the United States, Miami University junior midfielder Kayla Zakrzewski will be taking her soccer talents overseas. The London, Ontario native was invited to try out for the Polish National Women’s Soccer Team, which begins Monday.
Zakrzewski, who earned First-Team All-Mid-American Conference honors this past fall, flew from Chicago to Warsaw, Poland Friday night. There, she was joined by three other Canadians with Polish descent before flying to Posen (Poznań), where the training camp will be held through Thursday.
With a name like Zakrzewski, her Polish roots would seem obvious; however she has to trace her ancestry back four generations to her great-grandparents to find the connection to Poland. She doesn’t speak a lick of Polish either. But the speedy winger was not concerned as she said the Polish coaches all speak English, as do some of the girls trying out, including two other NCAA players who currently play for Fairfield and Bucknell.
Zakrzewski knows it will not be easy to make the team, but is looking forward to taking in the whole spectacle.
“I’m really nervous, that’s for sure,” she said. “But once I get passed the nerves, it’s a really exciting opportunity. I don’t expect to make it, but just the experience itself is really cool and getting to play with some of the top players. And seeing Poland. I’ve never been to Europe.”
After taking the weekend to adjust to the five-hour time difference, Zakrzewski will begin her tryout, which mainly includes playing against the other girls at the camp. She did not think she would scrimmage any other national teams during the week. While in Poland, she will stay at a hotel that is part of the national training complex, which Zakrzewski dubbed “really nice.”
When Zakrzewski was first contacted about playing for the Polish National Team, she wasn’t sold on the idea. The recruiter, who lives in Canada but had a heavy Polish accent according to the 5-foot-3 flanker, contacted her parents, Debbie and Walter, first. But Miami head coach Bobby Kramig ultimately helped her make the decision.
“When I was home for spring break, they called my house. The recruiter asked if I was interested. At first, I was kind of hesitant and didn’t think so, but then Bobby talked me into it and said why not,” she recalled. “Might as well give it a shot, right?”
Though this will be Zakrzewski’s first international experience, she was invited to try out for Canada’s U-20 National Team for the U-20 World Cup in Japan last fall, but she declined because it would have cut into Miami’s season. Her choice paid off, as she helped lead Miami to MAC regular-season and tournament championships.
Zakrzewski knows even if she doesn’t make the team, the experience will help her game overall and when she resumes playing for the RedHawks as a senior in the fall of 2013.
“I think it will be helpful playing in a whole different culture and a different level of play,” she said. “I’ll probably learn a bunch of new things. It’s a different coach and a different perspective.”
In addition to playing against tough competition, Zakrzewski hopes to take in some of the European culture even if she won’t have much free time. She’ll at least get to see some of Denmark, as she’ll stop in Copenhagen on her way back to the U.S. on Friday after camp wraps up. Should she make it, she could be called up to play for Poland at any time, including in 2015 World Cup and 2016 Olympic qualifying.
Zakrzewski will send blog updates throughout her week in Poland that will be posted on MURedHawks.com. Below is her first entry from Friday night:
After a thrilling day and a half with the Norenbergs (Zakrzewski drove to Chicago with teammate Allison Norenberg), I now have an eight pack from laughing so much so I’m in great shape for tryouts! The first person who talked to me in the Chicago International Airport at baggage check-in started rambling in Polish and asked me a question, which I responded to with a stupid blank stare.
“Ohhh you don’t speak polish?” NO. No I do not. So that was interesting. I’m slightly on edge…a person brushed up against my backpack and I thought I was getting mugged. I’m nervous but excited and literally shaking violently. BUT I made it past security after they patted me down and put me in what looked like a vertical MRI machine. Now to wait for my nine-hour flight to Warsaw!!