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Tuesday, Oct 3, 2023

Captain’s Corner: Kenan Ulku-Steiner ’22.5, men’s soccer

Kenan Ulku-Steiner ’22.5 throws the ball into play for the Panthers.
Kenan Ulku-Steiner ’22.5 throws the ball into play for the Panthers.

Welcome to this week’s installment of Captain’s Corner, where I sit down with a captain of a Middlebury College athletics team to talk Captain to captain about the role, the team and their life at Middlebury. This week I got a chance to catch up with Kenan Ulku-Steiner ’22.5 after an impressive week of games including a 1–0 win over Connecticut College that has given the team a four-game win streak. Kenan is one of three super-senior Feb captains that is looking to lead his team deep into the NESCAC and NCAA tournaments. 

Captain Rudolph: Let’s start off talking about this past weekend, you gave the assist on what ended up being the game winning goal against Connecticut College, the defending national champions. How did the team feel about the successful weekend? 

Kenan Ulku-Steiner: It was a huge weekend overall. We were in a good spot in the league, but we knew if we took care of this weekend, we’d be in a great spot. We played really well against Colby and used that momentum to move into day two of a doubleheader weekend. Doubleheaders can be tough, but we knew what we had to do. Playing against a really talented team in Connecticut College, we came out strong and that early goal was all Eujin [Chae ’25]. He’s had some magic moments on the field this year and he’s got an incredible right foot. All that I had to do was put it in front of him and he did the rest. To have a six point weekend makes us feel really excited that we’re coming together at the right time. I think we can make a deep run into the playoffs. 

CR: How has the organization of the team changed this year? What’s the mentality like in your fifth year?

KU: I’ve been doing this for a long time and decided together with my four senior classmates to come back for one last season, and we’ve really enjoyed it. We love this team and don’t want to leave just yet when we think we can make one last run happen. Last year was hectic having two full classes of teammates that hadn’t played a season to that point; however, this year it feels like we have a solid team of players with experience under their belts who have played big NESCAC minutes. So, we’re just trying to stay together and move forward. We’ve been playing really well and the vibes on campus are great. Throughout my five years we have become more and more diverse, and I think that has contributed to our success in all sorts of things on the field as well as on campus. Being a fifth year, I’m trying to soak in the moment, keep my old body going and help my team win as many games as we can.

CR: Which English Premier League team has been your favorite to follow growing up?

KU: That’s a tough one for me because I am sort of a fair-weather Leicester City F.C. fan. I have loved watching Premier League morning games throughout high school and still do, but now that we play on Saturdays, it can be tough sometimes. I do have to say that I sort of bandwagoned when Leicester won the championship in 2015 in what was a fairytale run, but I’ve been following them closely ever since. I love the Premier League. It's the best league in the world no matter what other people try to tell you.

CR: How would you describe the role of the leaders of the team?

KU: Mike [McFarlane ’22.5] and Liam [Sloan ’22.5] were captains last season as well, so they have experience under their belt, but I joined as a captain this year. I’d say we balance each other out really well. We have fire and compassion and love for the boys. Throughout my freshman and sophomore years I did not get as much playing time as they did, so in this captain role now, I have a valuable perspective on the struggles of not starting and not getting the minutes you want. Guys hopefully look up to us and see that even if you don’t get what you want right from the jump, things will come together. And honestly, I don’t think we are the only three leaders. I think really it's the five of us who were seniors last year including Noah [Hannam ’22.5] and Brendan [Barry ’22.5] as well. Having had this long experience, we know what we want to build, and I think that our soccer perspectives have changed. We obviously still love soccer and love playing, but even more we are building a culture and relationships that will last, which ends up bringing on even better soccer. We are best friends so it's easy to support each other in moments when it's great and moments when it's tough. Honestly, I think it's the leadership of the five of us that really makes us successful. 

CR: What’s your go-to study spot on campus?

KU: I am a Davis guy when I have to be, and we are approaching that time of year again. I really like the carrels on the first floor when I have to focus in, but the tables upstairs are fun if I know I can socialize a little more and don’t have to focus as much. I try to switch up though. Proctor is great too. If I can stay there for three or four hours and get a couple meals in while I study, I don’t mind that. 

CR: What’s the biggest home game of the year coming up?

KU: Our next big NESCAC game is this Saturday, Oct. 15, at 12:00 p.m. against Trinity [College] at home at South Street Field. It’s alumni weekend, so we’ll have alumni of the program coming back to town and it’s senior day. There’s a lot of celebrations to be had, but at the end of the day, we still need to take care of business. They are a good team that we tied last year. Knowing that they are dangerous, we really need to step up to take three points from the contest because there are not a lot of league games left.

CR: What are you currently studying, and do you have a post-graduation plan?

KU: I am an International Politics and Economics and Spanish double major. I’ve loved my poli-sci and economics electives especially as they’ve gotten more specific as I’ve gone on. I’m still figuring out what the next steps hold, applying to all sorts of positions. I'm truly soaking in the liberal arts mentality of applying to industries all over the place. I am waiting to hear back from some places, but trying to soak this in and worry about real life when it comes. Maybe I’ll take a trip down to Patagonia with all the fifth years of the team because I didn’t get the chance to go abroad. 

Editor’s Note: This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

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