As her final season with the Stony Brook women’s soccer team approaches, defender Catharina von Drigalski is looking to cap off her illustrious college career with a bang.
Coming off her best season yet, von Drigalski has been picked to be one of the best players in the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) this year. Going into her second year as a team co-captain, she is looking to lead the Seawolves back to another championship victory.
Ever since she arrived on campus in 2019, von Drigalski has done it all for the Seawolves. Though she plays on the backline where players rarely rack up statistics, von Drigalski has tallied 15 assists through her first four years — the ninth-most in program history. In her first two years, she helped her team win back-to-back America East Conference (AE) tournaments, earning All-Rookie, All-Conference and All-Tournament honors along the way.
Last year, in the team’s first season with the CAA, von Drigalski led the team with seven assists, tying her for the second-most in the conference. On Sept. 25, she reached her highest point of the 2022 season against Hampton when she tied the program record with four assists in one match, leading Stony Brook to a historic 12-0 triumph. Her impact on both offense and defense earned her a selection to the 2022 All-CAA Second Team.
Like all good leaders are expected to, von Drigalski credited her breakout to her teammates around her and the system in place. However, part of her breakout came from a lack of certainty surrounding her future with the Seawolves.
“Back then, I didn’t really know if I was going to stay for a fifth year,” von Drigalski said in an interview with The Statesman. “Before the season, I was just like, ‘You’ve just got to take everything in. Make the best out of it; this could be your last year playing college soccer.’ And that was how I went into the year.”
Half of von Drigalski’s decision to return for her fifth and final season with Stony Brook is academically motivated. After earning a bachelor’s degree in both psychology and business management last year, she got the opportunity to start working on her Master of Business Administration (MBA), which she did not want to pass up.
However, the other half of it was all soccer-related.
“I think we have a lot of potential in this team,” von Drigalski said. “We just joined the CAA last year, and we have almost everyone back for this year. I think we can achieve a lot with this team … so I want to be a part of this for another year. It made my decision easy.”
By the time von Drigalski finishes her NCAA career and receives her MBA, she will have completed the goals that she set for herself as a teenager in Germany. Hailing from Oberursel, Germany, von Drigalski has always been surrounded by soccer. She started playing at the age of six, following in the footsteps of her older brother. Von Drigalski joined the local club team — an all-boys team — and played with them until she was 13.
Playing with boys as a young girl helped develop her physicality, which ultimately helped her become a polished defender down the line. While playing on the boy’s team, she turned heads and was selected to play for the boy’s regional team, who she stuck with for a year. She was also selected for both the girl’s regional team and her state’s team.
At the age of 13, von Drigalski finally got to play on a girl’s club team when she joined Frauenfußballclub (FFC) Frankfurt II, which is one of the best clubs in Germany. Playing for the under-15 team, von Drigalski got the opportunity to play under the coaching of former professional players while also learning from older and more mature players.
Upon joining FFC Frankfurt, von Drigalski began to take soccer more seriously. The competitive spirit surrounding the club inspired her to make the sport her main focus in life.
“I loved the very competitive and professional environment early on,” von Drigalski said. “Once I joined the under-15 team, it was very clear that we wanted to win the league that we were in. Every practice was super competitive. We had a lot of sessions where you would stay extra long to do technical work for whatever you had to work on. It was a different way to grow up.”
Shortly after joining Frankfurt and dedicating her life to the sport, von Drigalski began to have aspirations of playing elsewhere. Early in her high school career, she considered leaving Germany for a year to study and play abroad, but she understood that doing so would come with a risk. If she left the country, she would lose her spot on Frankfurt’s roster, so she decided to stay there through the rest of her high school career.
After graduating from Carl-von-Weinberg-Schule, she finally had to make a decision. With a chance to earn a spot on Frankfurt’s professional team, but also a desire to leave home, von Drigalski faced a dilemma.
“I just wanted to change something up,” von Drigalski said. “The big question for me was ‘Do I go somewhere else to another country and get that experience, or do I really try to go pro?’”
Other mitigating factors made her decision difficult, as well. If von Drigalski landed a spot with Frankfurt’s first team, she would have likely been a benchwarmer aside older players with more polished talent and experience. Also, had she made Frankfurt’s professional team, then she would not have been able to leave home.
With reasons to leave Germany beginning to pile up, von Drigalski began considering options elsewhere.
“At some point, I realized that in the U.S. you can combine the academics and athletics really well,” von Drigalski said. “I was like ‘Okay, maybe I’ll try it out, maybe for a year, I don’t know how long.’ Then I started talking to people that have experience going overseas.”
Ultimately, von Drigalski decided to take her talents to the United States in hopes of getting a scholarship from an NCAA Division I team. She received offers from schools at all three division levels, as well as some NAIA schools. From her pool of Division I offers, several AE schools reached out to her. During her recruiting process, she spoke to head coach Tobias Bischof, who at that point had just recently been hired by Stony Brook.
After several positive interactions between von Drigalski, Bischof and a couple of players on the team, the Seawolves won the bidding war for her services. She committed to Stony Brook and arrived on campus later that summer to launch her NCAA career and start her new life in America.
By becoming a Seawolf, she broke ground on her goal of getting soccer experience beyond Germany. It has not been an easy ride for von Drigalski, as her taste of life in America and college were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. She was sent home early in the Spring 2020 semester as a freshman, forced to spend her sophomore year attending classes virtually and forced to play her second season with Stony Brook in the spring instead of the fall.
Not only was her introduction to her new life spoiled by the pandemic, but by her third year, von Drigalski ran into another dilemma. Once again, the option of playing professionally forced her to consider all options and make a decision — one that could have cut her Stony Brook career short.
“After my first and second year, I really wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep playing in the U.S. … or if I wanted to go back and continue academically and athletically at home,” von Drigalski said. “I was wondering if I wanted to take the next step and go pro, because if you want to go pro, you’d rather do it earlier than later.”
Ironically, COVID-19 actually helped von Drigalski make the decision to stay after year one, but she still faced some doubt afterwards.
“Once COVID happened, it ended the year so quickly that in my head, I thought ‘I don’t really want to end this way,’” von Drigalski said. “Even in my second year, I was struggling with the decision to stay or go back home, or even go somewhere else.”
Eventually, Stony Brook’s comforting culture helped von Drigalski make her final decision.
“What helped me overcome this wasn’t even the soccer part, but really the connection that we have within the team,” von Drigalski said. “We’ve always been a really close team, especially in my junior year. On that team, I think the upperclassmen helped me a lot. We had a lot of internationals and they told me that they’ve gone through phases like that, too. I’m definitely happy with the decision.”
Choosing to stick with Stony Brook has paid dividends for von Drigalski, as she has made the most of her opportunities at the university. Having played more minutes than any Seawolf since 2019, she is getting the soccer experience away from home that she hoped for. Winning plenty of awards and games along the way has made the ride even sweeter.
Perhaps her biggest individual accomplishment as a player was becoming one of the team’s captains in 2022.
“It’s definitely a big honor to me,” von Drigalski said. “It definitely shows that the coaching staff trusts me a lot, which I am very grateful for. Even within the team … I’m grateful that they know they have someone they can talk to or look up to.”
In the classroom, von Drigalski has taken full advantage of Stony Brook’s academics, which were a focal point in her decision to leave home. She has been one of the school’s brightest stars, as she graduated Summa Cum Laude in May 2023 — an honor only given to those who achieve at least a 3.85 grade point average at Stony Brook.
Now, just two and a half years after considering leaving Stony Brook behind and returning to Germany, von Drigalski has a chance to cement herself as one of the best student athletes to ever walk through the program’s doors.
Mike Anderson also contributed reporting.