Oliwia Wos hadn’t planned anything. She never seriously considered the thought of leaving her small hometown of Olesno, Poland, but then awoke one random morning inspired.
America was calling her name. Wos had been recruited to play Division I soccer several times in the past and thought little of it, but it lingered in her mind more frequently once she learned more.
The now-Hoosier defender’s agent explained to her how it was the top developmental level in the States. That was all that mattered to her.
“I couldn’t tell you the reason really — it was a super spontaneous decision,” Wos says. “I didn’t know anything about college, but I just knew I wanted to play in the U.S.”
Only a few weeks passed before she found herself boarding a one-way flight all alone, double-checking that the destination she was promised was the one printed on her ticket. Wake Forest University would be her new home.
Europe was all Wos knew. A Polish native, she lived in Germany for most of her life. Her father found a job when she was only a few years old, so the family left Olesno.
She cherishes those vacations back to Olesno now more than she could’ve ever imagined. During those visits, Wos could be found down the hill from the house, learning soccer from her uncles on the local field. She held her own with the bigger boys, naturally gravitating toward the striker position early on — as almost all children do when they’re introduced to the sport — but then gradually grew into the defensive role she was born to play.
Wos climbed through the ranks quickly as a teenager, signing with Arminia Bielefeld in Germany to play her club career and earning appearances for the under-17, under-19 and full national teams for Poland. These were her proudest soccer memories and experiences, but her heart yearned for a new challenge.
Wos stepped off the plane in North Carolina as a mere teenager, unfamiliar with the system she’d been placed in and forced to pick up a third language.
In what can only be described as fate, Wos’ first college match with Wake Forest required the Demon Deacons to hit the road — a 550-mile bus trip to Bloomington, where it rode down Indiana Avenue toward Bill Armstrong Stadium.
“I remember driving past the Sample Gates and thinking, ‘I wanna go in there!’” Wos said.
Bad weather and poor field conditions ultimately meant the match was canceled. Wos never got the opportunity to play against the Hoosiers or learn the intricacies of Jerry Yeagley Field for the first time.
Even after a successful freshman season that saw Wake Forest make it to the third round of the NCAA tournament, Wos decided it was best to pursue other options. There was a mutual agreement her potential couldn’t be fulfilled in North Carolina, and she knew she couldn’t find her true self there.
“I only planned on staying one year,” Wos says. “But I saw the different skill sets the Americans had and knew it would help me become a better player, so I stayed and tried to keep adapting.”
The first email she received while in the transfer portal came from Indiana and head coach Erwin Van Bennekom. A second chance to go through those gates arrived.
“Erwin recruited me and it was only us two,” Wos said. “Just the way he talked about soccer spoke to me. He knew how it was back in Europe, so that connection was there.”
Van Bennekom was preparing for his first year at the helm in Bloomington, contemplating what he wanted the program to look like. First and foremost, he wanted to turn the inconsistencies in the women’s soccer program around and build a real culture players could believe in.
In the time that’s passed since, Indiana has only improved. In last year’s shortened spring season due to COVID-19, the Hoosiers beat the odds and went on to have the program’s most successful season since 2013, posting records in Big Ten wins with six and points in conference play with 19 while finishing fifth in the conference.
Wos is a senior at Indiana this fall. Her English has drastically improved — she’s able to hold entire conversations and make it through interviews without any hiccups. She plans to go back to Europe once her playing career at Indiana comes to an end.
Now that she’s become the player she’s always wanted to be, playing for Poland again would mean everything to her.
As a defensive leader for Indiana, Wos loves being one of the loudest voices on the field, shouting and keeping the back line organized. On the offensive end, she’s able to showcase her masterful left foot on free kicks and corners. She’s embracing both of her roles this season.
“Knowing you have a bigger role outside of just being part of the starting XI is such a boost,” Wos says. “It proves to yourself and others that you deserve to be out there.”
Van Bennekom said Wos’ skills on both sides of the ball are important to the team’s success.
“She’s always been great for us defensively but also in building from the back and helping us go forward from there,” van Bennekom said. “Each year she’s just gotten better and better.”
Wos and the rest of her teammates are locked in on getting Indiana back to the College Cup. Despite the successful spring season, the Hoosiers just missed out on the NCAA tournament due to a reduced field of teams.
In Wos’ mind, a successful season would be making it and going as far as possible in the NCAA Tournament. For that to happen, she said the Hoosiers have to carry over what they did in the spring — keep their compact defensive shape while finding ways to score and edging out victories.
Even if a tournament bid doesn’t happen, Wos said the growth they’ve achieved together has been a special experience and leaving the program in a better state than when she joined gives her a feeling of serenity.
“IU has become more of a family than I ever thought it would,” Wos said. “I can say that every time I step on the pitch, I don’t take it for granted. If I had to do everything over again, I would say yes.”