International speedster leads GVSU back line
Odendaal considers return to T&F, XC after soccer
Juane Odendaal has been going through transitions her whole life.
Odendaal was born in South Africa, in the city of Durban – a well-populated coastal town on the southwestern edge of the country. After six years, Odendaal and her family packed up and left, heading to Canada in search of a safer, more promising life for Juane and her sister.
The Odendaals wound up in Ontario, spending the first six years in Windsor before moving to London, Ont. for another six. During that time, Odendaal transitioned from a young girl into an athlete with burgeoning skill and lightning speed. In secondary school, Odendaal competed in track and field and cross-country, while playing soccer on the club level.
When it came time to make a decision for college, Odendaal had no shortage of options. The University of Florida, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University were among the plethora of schools looking to sign her for soccer. GVSU’s coaching, camaraderie and campus won her over and Odendaal moved again, this time to Allendale.
She took her place as a member of the soccer team, and the transition process began once more.
“I felt like I was the cross-country runner on the soccer team,” Odendaal said. “I feel like my soccer smarts have improved tremendously and now I’m more of a soccer player than I was.”
Now, in her senior season, there’s no letting on that Odendaal was ever anything but a stud defender on the pitch. She switched from forward to defense early in her freshman year, and the position suited her. Odendaal can frequently be seen bolting up the pitch to take on an offensive role, then beating opposing attackers back to her position at defense if things go south.
Few Lakers have more experience than Odendaal. The 21-year-old made eight starts as a freshman, 25 as a sophomore and 18 as a junior. During these years, Odendaal and her fellow defenders racked up a number of records and awards. As a fourth-year starter in 2014, Odendaal has taken command of her defensive unit and her team, motivating and pushing the group each day.
“She brings a work rate that sets a tone for the group. She’s a hard-nose, no excuses type of player,” said GVSU head coach Jeff Hosler. “She holds people accountable for the way they’re playing and she has credibility because she brings it every day.”
Part of Odendaal’s desire to push and strive undoubtedly comes from her knowledge of what it takes to win on the big stage. Last year, Odendaal was named to the NCAA Final Four All-Tournament team while helping the Lakers capture their third NCAA Division II National Championship. Her stamina served her well, as Odendaal played every minute of the last four matches in the NCAA Tournament.
Now, in 2014, Odendaal helps anchor a back line that is ripe with experience. She is joined by redshirt senior Kaely Schlosser, junior Katy Wooley and sophomore Clare Carlson as starters. Experience is always invaluable, but even more so at the high-pressure position that is defense.
“It’s extremely important to have someone with her experience on defense,” said senior Charlie Socia. “It gives the whole team confidence knowing that she’s back there… Everyone knows Juane has it.”
Through four games, GVSU is 3-1, thanks largely to defensive efforts that have only allowed two goals all season. Odendaal’s contributions have already been recognized, as the senior was awarded GLIAC Defensive Player of the Week honors for the opening week of the season.
Odendaal’s focus for now, clearly, is on soccer. However, in the future, things could be different. The former track star is pondering a return to her athletic roots and joining the GVSU track and field team once the soccer season comes to a close. Odendaal is a therapeutic recreation major, meaning that she will still have another year before it comes time to graduate. Odendaal competed in a medley of events in secondary school in Canada and was highly ranked year after year in her province. Whether she will officially choose to pursue track and field in the spring is still up in the air, but, as GVSU Athletics have come to learn, she’d be a welcome addition to the squad.
Whatever the case, Odendaal will have to undergo yet another transition when her soccer career wraps up. Sports have helped her acclimate to new countries, choose an education and make unmatchable memories. New changes ahead stare Odendaal in the face, but if her past results, work ethic and personality have anything to say about it, Defender of the Week may end up being a minor award among many.