The Washington Spirit entered the 2023 NWSL Draft with just two picks. Thanks to a flurry of activity after the first round, they ended up selecting six intriguing talents. Recently, we got to chat with each Spirit draft pick to get the inside scoop on their draft experience, their role with the team, their game, and what they’re looking forward to about life in DC.
Here’s 37th overall draft pick Civana Kuhlmann, in her own words:
The Draft Experience
For Civana, she chose to share whatever joy, anticipation, frustration and agony there would be with her parents and brother-in-law. Her college coaches from the University of Colorado also made the trip to support her.
There’s a lot of focus on the eruptions of joy when a player’s name is called, but the seconds seen on screens during draft night took a lifetime to get to. Kuhlmann had to overcome a litany of injuries to realize her dream of being drafted, which is one of the reasons she really wanted to be live, in Philadelphia, to hopefully hear her name called.
“Basically once we got to the draft, post red carpet and everything, and we sat in those chairs, I maybe got up to go to the bathroom like once in the span of four hours. It was just like chaos and stressful obviously, you have no idea what’s happening. I just ended up sitting in a chair for four hours straight, didn’t move and didn’t realize I hadn’t moved — it was a lot.”
The agony of a long night was mixed with the discomfort of not knowing if she’ll be drafted, or where she’ll be headed if she is.
“The draft is chaotic and volatile, but I don’t think I realized how up in the air everything seems once you’re there. Just having all the teams tables in front of you and watching the real-time deals and trades, and getting to witness part of that was really interesting…. I don’t know if I could have predicted the chaos of it, because you just go in thinking ‘Well I don’t know where I’m going’ and then you realize there’s like a bunch of other moving parts.”
Being drafted to the Spirit
Thankfully for Kuhlmann, as she explains, it all worked out in the end. The team she hoped would select her kept wheeling and dealing until they finally sent in their selection with her name prepped to be called.
“The least surprising thing, and in a good way, was ending up at the Spirit. I was super happy about that. That’s something I wanted and was hoping for, and the Spirit ended up having several draft picks — six of us, there is — and I think it’s also hard when you have your hopes up on something.
Then just watching them pick other people and you know I’m sitting there at the draft and I’m genuinely happy for everyone’s that’s called and you clap for them and you’re excited for them, and then you also realize that your name still hasn’t been called — the whole experience is truly unlike anything I’ve ever been part of before.”
With her future in the air as she sat in a chair in a ballroom in Philadelphia, she couldn’t help but try to settle her mind with logic.
“It wasn’t just them choosing players before me, but it was also them choosing attacking players before me and I think I definitely reached a point where I was like ‘yeah I don’t know if that’s happening.’ But I will say the Spirit table was definitely one of the most active tables at the draft…. Part of me wouldn’t let go of all possibility until the draft actually ended, and then my name ended up getting called so it worked out!”
What will your role with the Spirit be?
The NCAA college system produces loads of talented players, but not all of them settle into the same position when they enter the professional ranks — particularly forwards. Athletic forwards with good instincts and physicality are frequently converted to fullback, but that won’t be the case with Kuhlmann.
“I’ll find myself on the front line, which was expected on my end. A part of me had to be prepared for anything else, but I also was expecting that it plays into my strengths. I have had some confirmation that you’ll find me on the front line.
“Obviously there are some really fun attacking players to play with on this team, and some amazing national team forwards, and I’m happy to provide depth — I’m a forward through and through so I am very thrilled that I will be finding myself there.”
What can Spirit supporters expect to see from your game
Joining the Spirit’s attacking core can be a daunting task. Every time the country calls up players to represent the country, multiple Spirit attackers are selected. For Kuhlmann, she’s ready to step in when needed, and has a solid understanding of how to utilize the strengths in her game.
“My playing style has a lot to do with my mentality. I’m definitely aggressive and have a good physicality to me. I feel like as a forward a lot of my success come from my movement off the ball. I am a physical player, I’m definitely strong and explosive, but I’m not the outright fastest person on the field, and that’s not a secret! I don’t pretend or tell myself that I am, and I know I still have to get behind teams and break them down other ways, and I try to do that through smart movement.”
Kuhlmann’s awareness of her own game should come as no surprise. In the same way that the shortest route between two points is a straight line, a keen sense of her most effective skills is the shortest route to her destination: scoring goals.
“I’m a player who’s willing to put it all out there in the boxes offensively and defensively, I feel strong with my aerial ability. In our defensive areas as well and in our offensive areas I’m really willing to do just about anything to score goals because there’s nothing that makes me happier out there than scoring a goal. No way around that, I love scoring goals. Some people love assisting and I do love assisting, getting into wide areas and sending in a nice cross, but I’m not going to pretend that I love an assist more than a goal.”
Have you set any goals for your first professional season?
Given what it took to even get to this point, Kuhlmann doesn’t want to add unnecessary weight to the tasks of becoming a professional soccer player.
“My first individual goal will be to sign a contract! … There are a lot of specific goals I could get into, but genuinely one of my overarching goals is to enjoy this year. Playing hasn’t been a given for me over the past several years, and I’m finally in the environment and at the pro level that I’ve been working really hard to get and I don’t want to forget the journey that I had — even if it might look different than I always wanted it to.”
As for the tasks of becoming a professional soccer player, Kuhlmann is excited about the opportunity to develop under current Spirit staff.
“I really want to grow as a player, learn from the people around me, learn from our amazing staff, and a huge goal of mine is to just be a contributor. I think especially in a World Cup year there’s going to be a lot of opportunity in the NWSL for teams that have national team players leaving and ours happen to be several attackers and I think that could be an awesome opportunity for me to step up.
I’d obviously love to find myself in some starting lineups and score some goals as a rookie, but most of all I’d say a goal of growing under our coaches and staff and players around me.”
What are you looking forward to about life in/around D.C.?
As for living in DC, well, Kuhlmann could use our help.
“I might need some people to tell me what I should be excited about! Not to say that there aren’t things to be excited about, I’ve spent all my time in Colorado and California and honestly the east coast is totally brand new to me. I think I can be excited about everything because it’s all brand new to me!
I don’t know if this is pretty basic but I would love to see the cherry blossoms, that’s something I’m excited for. I hope I have some time to check out some museums, I’ve seen all the monuments, but if I could have some time to really explore some museums that would be something really cool sometimes. I’m kind of a nerd sometimes and that stuff is really fun and fascinating to me.”
Civana is also looking forward to having her puppy in D.C., a six-pound fluffy pup named Butter.