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The time is now for Oswego East and Wisconsin recruit Anya Gulbrandsen. ‘I know what the expectations are.’

Add self-awareness to the list of things Oswego East’s Anya Gulbrandsen brings to the table.

The senior forward understands how a high school career can be a snapshot in time, those moments coming together for stories of lessons learned, triumphs, setbacks and discovery.

Let her tell the tale.

“My freshman year it was pretty much all about trying to prove something,” Gulbrandsen said. “We had that moment of uncertainty. The biggest differences now are the standards that I’ve set.

“We were a powerhouse team, and I think we have the potential to be even better. As a freshman, I always felt a little nervous. Now, I know what the expectations are.”

Gulbrandsen, a Wisconsin recruit, carries those expectations into her final season with the Wolves. The four-year starter is regarded as one of the best players in the country.

Last spring, she scored a program-record 30 goals while contributing eight assists. Despite her individual achievements, the season was a transitional one for Gulbrandsen and the team.

In Gulbrandsen’s sophomore season, Oswego East captured the program’s first regional title. Riley Gumm and Morgan Dick elected to play club last year to optimize college recruiting visibility.

Gumm, a midfielder, and Dick, a defender, are two of Gulbrandsen’s best friends. But they also are back for their senior seasons, joining a pack of Wolves featuring seven returning starters.

For Gulbrandsen, team remains the theme.

“I’ve always had to conform to the different needs of a team,” she said. “I think one of my strengths is my versatility. I play what position the team needs. When I play in the middle, I need to be more of an opportunist. If I’m out on the outside, I need to cross the ball into scoring chances.

“With this team, I’m the scoring forward. I have watched other girls who have played that position — see what I’m supposed to do and make the runs I should make.”

Oswego East's Erika Smiley hugs teammate Anya Gulbrandsen, right, after Gulbrandsen scored the first goal against St. Charles North in a Naperville Invitational game on Saturday, April 23, 2022.
Jon Cunningham / The Beacon-News

Oswego East’s Erika Smiley, left, hugs teammate Anya Gulbrandsen after Gulbrandsen scored the first goal against St. Charles North during a Naperville Invitational game on Saturday, April 23, 2022. (Jon Cunningham / The Beacon-News)

Gumm, who’s committed to San Diego State, has a natural ease and rapport with Gulbrandsen. Her time away also didn’t disrupt their cohesion on the field.

“I’ve been playing with Anya my entire life,” Gumm said. “She’s one of the hardest-working people I know. Her work rate pushes not only me but everyone else around her to get better.

“I think as a creator, she is very good on the ball and technically strong. As a scorer, she’s incredibly athletic and has a very powerful shot. She’s just constantly getting better.”

Plus, the 5-foot-6 Gulbrandsen combines poise, speed, agility and presence around the ball.

She has put in the time to develop her craft and technique.

Her defining trait is a competitive nature that was the logical outcome as the youngest child and only girl among three children. Her middle brother, Jonas, plays baseball at Grand Valley State.

“I have two older brothers, and I was always competing for things when I was younger, except I was always smaller,” she said. “My brother Jonas is far and away the one most like me. In general, we are more competitive than any other person I’ve ever met in my life.

“I just want to say that it is genetic, and we probably get it from my mom.”

Oswego East coach Juan Leal, meanwhile, has watched Gulbrandsen come into her own while surpassing all expectations.

“She came in as a freshman a little reserved, but she soon came out of her shell,” he said. “She had a lot of energy and was hungry for success. She has grown into a player with full field vision.

“Every time she steps onto the field, we are just waiting to see how she is going to surprise us. She puts in all the time, no holds barred, no limit, just pure love and passion for the game.”

Patrick Z. McGavin is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News.

Patrick Z. McGavin , 2024-03-11 16:34:10

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