What began as a child looking up to his father quickly turned into passion for a sport. Cole Kulhanek remembers, at age 6, watching his dad play goalie in a rec soccer game. Wanting to be just like him, Cole decided that he, too, would play soccer and be a goalie. That desire has led Kulhanek to a life dedicated to the sport of soccer. And, at just 17, he’s already achieved levels of play few will ever reach.
Kulhanek is in his fifth year playing with the Seattle Sounders Academy. When he started with the team, as a middle schooler, he would leave school in the middle of the day to reach practice on time. Eventually, the schedule of training—or games—six to seven days a week became too much. With the goal of playing soccer at the next level, he decided to leave Sehome High School and move to Issaquah, where he lives with teammate Cody Baker and his family.
Kulhanek now attends an online high school that balances school with his rigorous training schedule. This approach isn’t traditional, and it can be challenging to be away from his family, but he’s choosing to do what’s best for his soccer career.
Kulhanek has stuck with the goalie position, which brings with it all the pressure of being the last line of defense for his team.
“It’s pretty difficult because you’re kind of in your own mental zone; nobody has the same position on the team,” Kulhanek says. “It can be a pretty lonely position throughout the game, but it’s also fun sliding around in the mud.”
While most high school students would be nearing the middle of their senior year and looking forward to the spring soccer season, Kulhanek has set himself on a different path. Playing at the high level offered by the Seattle Sounders Academy has drawn attention from colleges, and Kulhanek has committed to Grand Canyon University. Eager to keep progressing, Kulhanek put in the extra work to graduate from high school early. He’s just wrapping up his final classes and will graduate at the end of 2021.
Not wasting any time, he begins college on January 3rd, a few weeks before his 18th birthday. Heading to college early is a big deal for Kulhanek, as it would be for any teen, but he’s more excited than nervous. Having already lived away from home, he feels he’s prepared for the transition. He’s excited to be on campus and get comfortable with both his classes and his team so that when the time comes, he’s ready to perform on the field.
Kulhanek had options when choosing which college to play for, but Grand Canyon University stood apart because of the team’s mindset. “Other schools were more individual, and everybody wanted to go their own path,” Kulhanek says. “But at Grand Canyon University, every player wants the collective to win, not just win individual accomplishments. There was really a sense of togetherness.”
While Kulhanek is excited to get on the field and play for Grand Canyon University, his ultimate goals stretch beyond college. “To go to the highest level possible, that’s always been my goal,” he says. “Just to push myself as far as it can go. My goal is to be professional at least some time in my lifetime, whether that’s in the next two years or four years. I’ll try to pursue that as long as my body can handle it.”
If he does get the opportunity to play professionally before completing his degree, he will go without hesitation but won’t lose sight of his education. He plans to major in business and sports management. Should his soccer career pull him away from in-person education, he plans to complete his degree online and knows of other professional soccer players doing the same.
Kulhanek has hopes of one day returning to the Sounders organization as a professional goalie, but is willing to go wherever necessary to fulfill his dream. There are other MLS teams and lots of soccer around the world where he would gladly take a roster spot as a goalie.
“We’re the only position that can’t be moved to another one, and there’s only one that plays, so there are very few that are kept on a roster each year,” Kulhanek says.
Grand Canyon University’s soccer season begins summer of 2022. Kulhanek will have to earn a starting spot but keep your eyes out for him as there’s no doubt he will be working hard to be on that field.
Check out some of Kulhanek’s 2020 highlights: