German soccer star finding new home with Bulldogs

Photo courtesy of Keith Kountz/Fresno State Athletics

For senior Marie Berwinkel-Kottmann, Fresno State has given her the chance to epitomize the role of student-athlete and play soccer for a wide, supportive fan base for almost four years.

Berwinkel-Kottmann is 5-foot-11 and uses her height to the team’s advantage as a goalkeeper. She was named Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Week in 2016 after her shutout game against the New Mexico Lobos, the ‘Dogs’ first at-home win against New Mexico.

The 21-year-old came to Fresno from Bielefeld, Germany, after being recruited by Fresno State athletics straight out of high school. The biggest challenge with transitioning to the U.S. was jumping straight into using American English every day.

Although her friends and teammates were understanding and helpful, she had a hard time at first adjusting to hearing American accents and slang. British English is predominately taught in Germany.

“Being around the team 24/7 really helped,” Berwinkel-Kottmann said.

Women’s soccer head coach Brian Zwaschka affirmed her quick adjustment.

“Though faced with adapting to the new culture, language, climate and environment, she integrated herself immediately and without fanfare,” Zwaschka said.

Now nearly four years later, she has practically perfected her own American accent.

Berwinkel-Kottmann said her older brother is to blame for her love of soccer. He played with her in their backyard starting when she was only 6 years old. Where Berwinkel-Kottmann is from, there are only club sports.

Fresno State offered her an athletic career. Her favorite part about playing for the Bulldogs is the spirited fans.

“Everyone was really welcoming from the very beginning,” she said. “I’m not used to this big fan base… It’s really awesome to see everyone supporting the school.”

As is usual for being far from home, Berwinkel-Kottmann misses her friends and family most. And, of course, the food. She craves good German bread, she added with a chuckle.

Berwinkel-Kottmann is studying kinesiology- sports administration. She plans to get her master’s degree somewhere in Europe, after interning here for her last semester.

With eight new women on the team this season, Berwinkel-Kottmann said it has been a challenge to bring them up to speed on what the team has worked on the past few years.

However, every player has been willing to learn and work hard, she said.

Zwaschka said Berwinkel-Kottmann has led the younger women exceptionally well and stepped up to the challenge admirably.

“She is very focused and serious about her role in the team and as a student, yet she is equally sharp, witty and fun when off the field and outside the classroom,” Zwaschka said. “These things are important as a senior leader because she is a great example of a complete student-athlete and great person.”

Berwinkel-Kottmann has felt the big responsibility of being a senior this season.

“You have to be a leader,” she said. “Everyone is looking up to you. You are not only leading by what you are telling them, you are leading by example.”

Berwinkel-Kottmann is a self-professed “nature gal.” She likes being outdoors and visiting Yosemite and Sequoia national parks. Even though the team spends a lot of time working together, she said she spends most of her free time with her teammates as well.

The soccer season is already half over, but Berwinkel-Kottmann said they are working hard to pile up as many wins as they can to hopefully qualify for the NCAA Tournament at the end of the season.

“Any time we win, it’s a special feeling,” she said. “You’re proud to be a part of a winning community. It’s more fun when you win, definitely.”

The ‘Dogs have seven more games before the Mountain West Women’s Soccer Championship at the end of this month. They will host Wyoming at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 12, and then Colorado State at noon on Sunday, Oct. 14, at the Soccer and Lacrosse Stadium.

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