Ask freshman Swedish striker Paula Hafner about her stat column or recognition from the GLIAC in her rookie 2013 season and she will not have much to say.She said she focuses rather on the team.
“I really want us to improve as a team because I know we can do better than we did last year,” Hafner said. “We finished sixth in conference last season, which was not that good. “I’d like us to finish higher next season and improve more as a team. That’s the most important thing for me.”
Hafner said during her rookie season she had to “adapt to a new league, rules and style of play.” Hafner said the transition from European play to the American style was, “a little difficult.”
“I struggled in the beginning of the season scoring goals, but once I got my rhythm, it was OK,” Hafner said.Hafner was unable to find the back of the net on 15 shots taken, rendering her scoreless in the ’Cats’ first five conference games.
“It was a little frustrating,” Hafner said. “But I knew it was a question of getting into a new team for me and figuring out how everyone plays.”Hafner then put together a six-game point streak, tallying six goals and four assists.
Head coach Matt Granstrand said how difficult the integration process can be.“As opposed to an incoming American rookie, there are higher expectations for an international freshman player coming in, and she lived up to them,” Granstrand said. “We’re proud of her.”
Hafner’s 2013 debut brought a first team all-conference award, GLIAC rookie of the year honors and Hafner has been named to the All-Midwest Region team. The forward led the ’Cats’ offensive stat columns netting eight goals, seven assists and marking 29 shots on goal.
Hafner said as a striker, her role is to open up the offense.“As a striker it is my job to score goals, but that is not everything,” Hafner said. “I also generate the attack in terms of creating plays, giving my teammates good balls and coordinating the offensive zone.”
Granstrand said Hafner delivers a high level of skill and talent to the ’Cats’ offensive side of the pitch.“She has a great work rate, technically sound and just a very dangerous, skilled player,” Granstrand said. “Her right foot needs some work but her left is lethal. You can tell she’s been playing at a very high level for a while.”Senior captain Kim Rietveld said Hafner’s technical ability makes her a special player.
“She’s just a really good forward,” Reitveld said. “She can play with her back to the goal. She can take people on. She’s very versatile.”Reitveld said the ability for a forward to play with her back to the goal is ‘a very technical part of a striker’s offensive repertoire.’The 2014 Northern Michigan University women’s soccer season begins at home Friday, Sept. 5 against St. Cloud State.
Granstrand said Hafner’s next season looks promising and has a positive outlook for the team overall. “Her diligence and work rate will pay off for her,” Granstrand said. “We, as a team, just need to stay the course we are on. We’re better than ever.”