Savanna Wojtanowski was made here. She played here. She stayed here — except for stints in Washington, D.C., where international soccer players joined her.
Now she’s back as a high school soccer coach.
While lots of faces familiar to United States and Canadian television viewers and soccer fans are expected at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, some of those players will be personally familiar to Wojtanowski.
Wojtanowski played alongside a handful of current and recent players on the U.S. and Canadian women’s teams after serving as four-year starting goalie for Traverse City West and during a college career that began with two seasons at Ferris State and concluded with her final two at Michigan State in 2016 and 2017. During her time with the Spartans, Wojtanowski spent two offseasons with the reserve team for the Washington Spirit, one of the original eight teams when the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) was formed in 2012.
At West, Wojtanowski was named second team all-conference as a junior and senior, as well as first team all-district, first team all-region and all-state honorable mention her senior season in 2013. West winning the Big North Conference title that spring remains her favorite memory from high school soccer – and she quickly has matched that achievement as a coach, leading West to the BNC championship this past spring in her first season after taking over the program.
Wojtanowski is looking for the U.S. national team to come out with a vengeance after the disappointment of the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil. There the U.S. fell to Sweden in a semifinal shootout, which meant failing to reach the gold medal match for the first time since women’s soccer was introduced to the Olympics in 1996 in Atlanta.
Sweden is the U.S.’s opening-game opponent July 21 in Tokyo.
“I believe there is a lot of revenge being chased after the Rio Olympics,” the 25-year-old former keeper said. “I was with the Spirit during Rio, and when the team returned from the Olympics, the sense of disappointment was felt for a long time.
“I believe going into this year's Olympics, we will see a different type of fire displayed from the USWNT.”
Wojtanowski won’t see former Washington Spirit teammate Diana Matheson of Canadian fame and Estelle Johnson of Cameroon playing in Tokyo. Matheson recently announced her retirement after 18 years representing Canada’s national team. Johnson and her teammates lost a playoff with Chile for the last of 16 slots in the Olympics.
Wojtanowski feels fortunate that she had the chance to compete with and against the women trying to claim gold at Tokyo.
“During college I was able to play two years on the Washington Spirit reserves, which opened the door to the pro side of the game,” she said. “I was fortunate enough to be one of two college players training full-time with the pro squad for those two summers.
“Having the opportunity to play alongside some USWNT women and the Canada women was such a great experience.”
Wojtanowski played with current U.S. roster players Crystal Dunn and Kristie Mewis. The current Canadians she played with are Stephanie Labbe and Shelina Zadorsky. Labbe was Canada’s starting goalkeeper in Rio.
Dunn, though, stands out most to Wojtanowski. Dunn was with the Spirit but now plays for Portland. She has 24 goals and 19 assists in 116 appearances for the USWNT as primarily a defender.
“(Dunn) was such a treat to play with …. her humor, attitude, and training mentality is something I will forever remember,” Wojtanowski said. “She was constantly dancing, laughing, and having a great time at training, but when it was time to get serious she would get the job done.”
Wojtanowski also had the tough job of trying to stop U.S. standout Rose Lavelle during Lavelle’s time starring for Wisconsin. The past Badgers standout and now-Washington Spirit midfielder has 14 goals and nine assists in 56 appearances for the U.S.
Wojtanowski began her collegiate career with two seasons at Ferris State University. After transferring to MSU, she played two more seasons and as a junior in 2016 tied the MSU single-game record with 14 saves against then-No. 16 Penn State. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business with a focus on administration and management and a master’s certificate in supply chain management and procurement. She returned home to start the next chapters of life, and she works as a supply chain buyer fulltime along with her guidance of the Titans.
She’s thrilled to be back at her high school alma mater, which she guided to an overall 10-4-1 record this spring, with the Titans eventually falling to Midland Dow in a Division 1 District Final.
“I wanted to give back to the community,” said Wojtanowski, who previously had coached at the club level in Lansing. “West has always had a very special place in my heart ever since graduation.
“When this opportunity presented itself, I knew I had to take the opportunity to be a Titan again,” she continued. “It has been a special experience to coach the program that I grew up with.”
Wojtanowski wants to instill a family-based culture in the Titans program, something she came to know and love while at Michigan State.
“The biggest thing for me is growing them as individuals both on and off the soccer field,” she said.
Wojtanowski believes girls high school and women’s soccer in this country have changed for the better since she played. And, she’s not the least bit surprised by the consistent success of the USWNT.
“The women's game in the US has grown significantly since I started playing soccer in 2000,” Wojtanowski noted. “Our farm systems here in the U.S. along with club, college, and other programs feed a constantly-elite level of players through the USWNT system.”
2020-21 Made in Michigan
PHOTOS: (Top) Savanna Wojtanowski leads a halftime discussion this spring with her Traverse City West varsity. (Middle) Wojtanowski, second row standing far right in group photo, trained two seasons with the Washington Spirit’s reserves; the Spirit first team included U.S. national teamer Crystal Dunn (left in second photo) and Cameroon national teamer Estelle Johnson (far right). (Below) Wojtanowski makes a save for West against Traverse City Central in 2012. (Top photo by Daisy Kinney, middle courtesy of Savanna Wojtanowski and below courtesy of the Traverse City Record-Eagle.)
Be The Referee is a series of short messages designed to help educate people on the rules of different sports, to help them better understand the art of officiating, and to recruit officials.
Below is this week's segment – Soccer Referee Jersey Colors - Listen
A soccer match is about to start between two teams – one wearing road white uniforms and one wearing its home blues. It’s pretty easy to spot the referee in the middle of the field wearing a bright yellow referee jersey.
But what if the home team is nicknamed the Yellow Jackets and they are also wearing bright yellow jerseys?
Soccer officials come prepared. They have a number of different colored jerseys, so they can wear something that contrasts with both teams. While yellow is the default color, they can very easily change into a distinctive uniform if needed – as red, blue, green and black are also acceptable colors. They may even choose to wear a color different from what the goalkeepers are wearing. The last thing a referee wants is to be mistaken for a player on the field.
Oct. 18: Cross Country Tie-Breaker - Listen
Oct. 11: Soccer Shootouts - Listen
Oct. 11: Safety in End Zone - Listen
Oct. 4: Football Overtime Penalty - Listen
Sept. 27: Kickoff Goal - Listen
Sept. 20: Soccer Timing - Listen
Sept. 13: Volleyball Replays - Listen
Sept. 6: Switching Sides - Listen
Aug. 30: Play Clock - Listen
Aug. 23: Intentional Grounding Change - Listen