Updated Nov. 25, 2000
By Pete LaFleur
Notre Dame’s Anne Makinen is a rare commodity in the world of college soccer, due to wide-reaching skills that impact the casual observer just as greatly as they affect the most diehard soccer aficionado.
When the senior midfielder runs onto a pass and one-times a 20-yard, laser shot that clangs off the upper corner of the goalmouth, the “oohs” and “aahs” reverberate around Alumni Field.
“Anne does things no other player on this level can do,” says second-year Irish head coach Randy Waldrum. “When she bends a free kick around the wall, we’re talking about a very high level of skill there.”
But the true nature of her greatness lies on a more subtle plane.
“Having grown up in Finland, Anne knows how to use her body to get position and create space,” explains Waldrum. “In the United States, there is not established pro soccer where young kids can learn the subtleties. Anne sees the game on another level. It’s like putting a pro player into the college game.”
Senior forward Meotis Erikson agrees with her coach and has seen Makinen’s presence transform the Notre Dame program.
“Making others betters is the sign of a truly great player,” says Erikson. “There’s so many things Anne does, like sending a thru-ball and putting it exactly where you want it. She excels at all the details and we wouldn’t be a winning program without that.”
The depth of Makinen’s game is matched by her personality. On one hand, her outward soccer skills are paralleled by a quiet sense of purpose off the field that often is interpreted as shyness or aloofness. But a closer look shows that she is an individual who adeptly picks her spots, both on and off the field.
“Anne has a dry sense of humor and when she does address the team, it’s always pretty powerful and very blunt,” says Waldrum.
Adds Erikson, “Even through she often seems uninvolved, Anne is very perceptive, cares about people and wants them to be happy. She has always been there for me.”
That care has been reciprocal, as Makinen has leaned on her friends while adjusting to life at Notre Dame.
“In my freshman year, the pace was tough, with all the papers and travel to games,” says Makinen, admitting to early frustration and loneliness. “And with a new language, it’s much harder to produce it than it is to understand it.”
Adjusting to American food also took time. “One day she was eating a sandwich with just tomatoes and cucumber,” says Erikson. “Her stomach just wasn’t used to some of the food.”
Of course, the dining hall doesn’t serve Makinen’s favorite food: reindeer meat. “That’s been my favorite for a long time,” says Makinen. “It’s similar to beef but more tender. It’s a delicacy in Finland.”
Makinen’s family background could match that from various U.S. communities: her father Olavi is a bus driver, her mother Terttu a hairdresser, and her 27-year-old sister Kirsi is married and looking to begin her own family.
“My parents are normal folks that always supported me,” says Makinen, who credits her mother with her sense of humor while picking up her love of nature and emotional side from Olavi.
Makinen grew up surrounded by a wide array of winter sports but soccer became her true love. Her skills developed at a fast rate-thanks to year-round training and quality indoor facilities-and by the time she was 14, Makinen was the youngest member of Finland’s national team.
With her competitive fire still burning, Makinen in 1996 headed to the adidas Soccer Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and trained with legendary coach Kai Haaskivi. She talked with numerous colleges before signing with Notre Dame and former head coach Chris Petrucelli.
Makinen was the perfect fit for replacing national player of the year Cindy Daws at central midfielder and she played a major role in the Irish reaching the 1997 NCAA semifinals and the ’99 title game. Another run at the title remains the goal for 2000.
“If we play good soccer, winning will follow,” says Makinen. “I don’t want to win by being lucky, instead of by playing well and playing as a team.”
Makinen is viewed by college soccer insiders as having a strong chance to follow Daws as Notre Dame’s second national player of the year. But she’s having nothing of it. “Soccer is a team sport. It’s not my style to worry about awards,” she says.
Ironically, the Irish have asked their three-time All-American to be more selfish with her play during the 2000 season, but such a change entails more than just flipping a switch. “Being selfish is not my nature, but I’m trying my best,” says Makinen.
Makinen’s “Notre Dame experience” differs on many levels when compared to the average student. While many of her classmates were busy applying face paint in preparation for the season-opening football game, Makinen was relaxing in her room.
“Anne is almost 25 years old and didn’t grow up in this country, so she doesn’t get hyped up about things that most students do,” explains Erikson. “She likes Notre Dame and appreciates what it’s done for her, but she has a reserved personality. The quality of her relationships are important to Anne, not the quantity.”
As Makinen looks ahead to life after Notre Dame-with a possible playing career in the developing U.S. pro league or in Europe-she has the maturity to recognize that it’s almost time to turn the page.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m going to be sad when things are over for me here, because I will be ready to move on,” she says. “But I’m very grateful for the education I’m getting and for the friends that I’ve made. Just the whole experience of being by myself has really developed my individuality and helped me grow up a lot.”
And she’s left a lasting impact on college women’s soccer along the way.