Girls soccer: Oswego East senior Anya Gulbrandsen is the 2024 Record Newspapers Player of the Year

Wisconsin recruit capped off record-breaking season with 27 goals and nine assists

Oswego East's Anya Gulbrandsen (3) plays the ball against Oswego’s Ainsley Barnes (12) during a Class 3A Lockport Regional semifinal soccer match in May 2024 at Lockport High School in Lockport.

Anya Gulbrandsen’s first high school experience at Oswego East meeting new people came, it seems fittingly now, on the soccer field.

Freshman nerves? Oh yes, she had them.

“I have two older brothers and they were like ‘They don’t put freshmen on varsity.’ I was nervous going in, I didn’t know what to expect,” Gulbrandsen said. “I made the team and I was so nervous and so intimidated.”

It did not take long for Gulbrandsen to make her introduction.

Coming off the bench in her varsity debut, Gulbrandsen scored two goals in a 7-0 win over Joliet West.

“I scored and I was like ‘I can do this,’” Gulbrandsen said. “We had a break in the middle of the year, a COVID outbreak. It feels like a different world now. But freshman year was an awesome experience.”

It proved just the start of a truly spectacular career.

Oswego East went undefeated in the shortened 2021 spring season. Gulbrandsen’s sophomore year, the Wolves went 18-3, won their second consecutive Southwest Prairie Conference championship with an unbeaten league record and followed it up by winning the program’s first regional title.

Gulbrandsen set a single-season program record with 30 goals as a junior, and this spring finished with 27 goals and nine assists. She leaves Oswego East as the program record holder in career goals (89) and assists (35).

Gulbrandsen, who will play collegiately at Wisconsin, is the Record Newspapers Player of the Year for the third consecutive season.

“She’s a good example for other girls that hard work pays off,” Oswego East coach Juan Leal said. “With consistency, and lots of repetition, and a high energy and love for the game and love for the rest of the girls, she has left a great legacy. Without her, we don’t win. She has been a staple of our offense for four consecutive years.”

Oswego East’s historic 2022 season is what first comes to mind when Gulbrandsen reflects on her four years. But she cherishes every year she played. Junior and senior year she did weigh the internal debate about whether to just play club, but she stayed with her school team.

“I have no regrets about any choices I make,” Gulbrandsen said. “There were times where I leaned a little more toward club soccer, but it would come down to doing those winter workouts. I would be like I don’t think I can go on without this. This is what I knew.”

Oswego East’s Anya Gulbrandsen, right, celebrates her first-half goal against Batavia with teammate Riley Gumm, left, who assisted on the play, during a girls soccer match on Saturday, March 23, 2024 in Batavia.

As much as Gulbrandsen was the star that Oswego East’s success revolved around, she insists on deflecting the spotlight.

If she scores a goal, Gulbrandsen immediately looks for the girl who passed her the ball. If Gulbrandsen is in on the assist, she runs right to the goal scorer to celebrate with them.

“It is a mentality that I’m only as successful as my teammates are, and the rest of the girls feed off of that,” Leal said. “They know that if they work hard Anya will pass them the ball if they have a wide-open score. She does not like talking about herself. It’s fun to watch her.”

That selflessness starts at home.

“I have grown up with two God-fearing parents in a Christian household. Being humble is not exclusive to that faith, but it is something that my parents have always emphasized with school, and with sports,” Gulbrandsen said. “You want to be competitive and confident, but at the same time soccer is an 11-person game. You can’t do it yourself. The way I grew up, I spent a lot of time trying to analyze the game, and one of the things I have learned is that it really is an 11-person field.”

Athletic ability, too is in the DNA, and that competitive fire was hardened as the youngest of three siblings, and only girl. Gulbrandsen’s dad played football, basketball and baseball, as did her two older brothers.

“Living in a sports family, living with two brothers that are four and six years older than you, you have to hold your own,” Gulbrandsen said.

Leal said his coaching staff recognized Gulbrandsen’s athletic ability in tryouts freshman year. She moved around and controlled herself in different ways, and showed skills with her feet and her head early on.

“We knew we had an athlete,” Leal said. “She came off the bench for a game or two before we started her to get a feel. Once she came off the bench and then became a starter she never looked back.

“She has got incredibly strong over the years, and incredibly fit from the girl who was able to barely do a handful of pushups as a freshman to being incredibly strong now. That’s what sets her apart, is her physical maturity.”