Leoni Enzlmuller was enthralled with the idea of coming to the United States to attend college and play soccer.
She had been in contact with Kansas Wesleyan women's coach Henrik Sohn, comforted by the fact he's from Germany which shares a 500-mile border with her native Austria. She liked the university's graphic design program, had taken a virtual tour of the campus and had her mother's blessing.
"My mom was like 'Just give it a try if you want and we'll see what comes out of it,'" Enzlmuller said.
There was one drawback, though, and it was significant.
"My English was so terrible in school, it was my least favorite subject," she said. "The English barrier was to the point that I didn't want to go to the U.S. because I was so insecure about it."
Enter Sohn who conversed with Enzlmuller in German and English after she arrived in Salina – German the primary language in Austria.
"It's like American and British English, we can understand each other," Sohn said.
"The first few months I really needed someone who was talking German to me while I was in that process of getting my English better," she said.
Her English rapidly improved and her play on the pitch helped the Coyotes improve as well. Enzlmuller entered the Coyotes' starting lineup as a freshman defender in the fall of 2021 and performed well, earning All-Kansas Conference Second Team postseason recognition.
Life off the pitch gradually became more comfortable as well.
"The first few days and weeks everything was so different to Europe and home," said Enzlmuller, who hails from Linz, a city of 200,000 located on the Danube River in the northeast part of the country. "I don't think you can really explain the difference, you have to see and feel the difference from America to Europe."
The first thing she noticed in her new locale was the houses, which didn't seem to be as sturdy as the centuries-old homes of Europe.
"I felt like they'd fly away but as we saw on Saturday it's okay," she said of the storm that blew through Saturday night.
Other aspects of home she misses are public transportation and bread – "really good bread."
"I really like to travel a lot back home because everything is so close and you can go everywhere so fast," she said. "Here I have the feeling that you need to have the time to go somewhere because it's so big."
Soccer-wise Enzlmuller provides a different, more technical approach to the game.
"She has an incredible soccer IQ that comes from growing up in Europe," Sohn said. "I think there's a difference in how much soccer you watch, how much you are around the game. That's how the soccer IQ grows. She has a great understanding of the game and is technically excellent. She's been phenomenal wherever we put her."
Enzlmuller says there's a sizable difference between the U.S. and European style of play.
"In America I would say it's how fit you are," she said. "The players here are more physical, stronger, more athletic and not so much your technical abilities," she said.
The differences begin at an early age.
"Back home when you're starting young everything you're doing is with the ball, you always have a ball on your feet trying to get more skills," she said. "Growing up in America every child is playing as many sports as possible and every sport has a season. Back home they like stick to one sport – my whole life I only played soccer in a club and you're playing the whole year."
While soccer is immensely popular in Austria it's second to another endeavor in popularity, Enzmuller said.
"In my nation we have a lot of mountains so skiing, I would say, is the most famous sport in Austria," she said. "Everyone should be on skis once in their life."
Sohn said Enzlmuller's contributions to the program go beyond soccer.
"I'm a firm believer in international students," he said. "It's something that enriches the experience of everyone that interacts with her and interacts with them no matter what program they're in.
"The U.S. is so big a lot of citizens don't ever leave the country. So, bringing foreign students to the U.S. and embracing them and culturally understanding different people is a huge asset. She is adding that off the field."
Enzlmuller went home for the summer but returned for the 2022-23 school year. It wasn't a difficult decision.
"Studying here is so much better for me and what I want to," she said. "I was at a huge university (Technical University of Vienna) where you're only a number. Here it's more familiar, my professors know me as a person and they know my strengths and weaknesses. I know why I'm here and what I want from here."
All bets are off after she graduates, though.
"I'm going back home," she said, "because first of all it's very difficult to stay as a foreigner in the U.S. – getting your visas and your records so you're able to work. And I miss Europe as a whole so much."