For many athletes in the world, the greatest dream is to play at the next level, whether that is a competitive travel team, at a university or in a professional league. Some young athletes, however, have a dream to play overseas.
For University of Utah soccer player Paola Van der Veen, that dream has come true. The senior hails from Leidschendam, Netherlands, and has been living, playing and studying in Utah for the last four years.
“It’s been amazing. It is absolutely a dream come true. I have dreamed to play in the United States ever since I was five and it has been beyond my expectations,” said Van der Veen.
The transition between European and American playing has been a change for Van der Veen, but she has adapted well. The style of play between continents is not quite identical and the general playing atmosphere is different here than it is in the European Netherlands.
“It is just a different style of soccer here,” said Van der Veen. “In Europe, it is more technical and more precision, while here it is more strength and conditioning.”
This midfielder has been recognized by the Pac-12 each year that she has been a part of the team and she is already making her mark in her fourth year.
During her freshman season, Van der Veen was named to the All-Freshman team and she was ranked sixth in the Pac-12 with six assists. She led the team in a number of strong games and helped the Utes to a handful of victories in Pac-12 play.
Her sophomore year brought various injuries to the star, but Van der Veen was still placed on the Pac-12 All-Academic Honorable Mention for her work off of the field.
In her junior year, Van der Veen was named both an All Pac-12 performer and All-West Region. That season, she collected eight goals, placing her at fourth in the conference.
In her fourth and final year as a Ute, Van der Veen already has two goals in the first five games and a number of attempts. Aside from being a highly skilled athlete, Van der Veen is looked up to by everyone she plays with, including her three-year teammate, Ireland Dunn.
“She’s super technical and very good at communication,” said Dunn. “She is always talking to all of us on the field and when something is going wrong, she will let you know. On the other end of that, if you do something good, she will let you know you did something good. She’s a really great teammate because she not only works hard, but she is also very skilled.”
Van der Veen is not the only foreign athlete to be attending the U; many of the other teams on campus have extended their recruiting to overseas. Many teams, including tennis, basketball and cross country, have athletes on their rosters who come from abroad to live out their athletic dreams in the United States.
Post-graduation, Van der Veen hopes to return to Europe, but she is still open to the possibility of coming back to America after her goal of playing professionally in Europe has been accomplished.
“I’m trying to play professional in England. That is my main goal. I might come back here in two years,” said Van der Veen. “I am not a huge fan of the way that the draft works in Europe, so I might come back here where I can have more of a choice where to play.”
Van Der Veen is prepared to leave it all on the field in this final year. She will miss her teammates and the amazing view from the field, but right now she is focusing on making this season her best one yet.