A long journey, including time in Central America and Europe, has led Coach Colhoff to DeKalb


By Jarrett Huff

DeKALB — Sitting behind her desk in her office, women’s soccer Head Coach Julie Colhoff reminisced over her nearly life-long career in soccer and the path she took to reach the women’s soccer program at Northern Illinois University.

It’s been an impressive career as both a player and a coach. In college, Colhoff played at Loyola University – Chicago for the women’s soccer team. There, she helped lead the Ramblers to three championships in her four years as a starter. 

In 2006 and 2007, the Ramblers won the Horizon League Tournament title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. They claimed the league’s regular season title in 2008, and made the league final again. In her time at Loyola she was team captain in 2009, a two-time all-conference selection, a three-time Horizon League All-Academic honoree and received Horizon League All-Tournament honors in 2008 and 2009. Colhoff attributes playing college soccer as one of the reasons she got into coaching soccer, due to the “amazing” experience she had playing.

“I miss playing for sure, but coaching is the next best thing,” Colhoff said. “I think the time was great — being able to work with teammates you care about on the field and off. You want to push each other to be better.”

Colhoff’s dream heading into college had little to do with soccer. She envisioned herself being a high school basketball coach. She knew she wanted to help people, and have an impact on them. Just like soccer, she grew up watching and playing basketball. Colhoff even had posters of Michael Jordan on her wall as she watched his Chicago Bulls teams dominate the NBA. Her former high school basketball coach, Frank Mattucci, inspired her, and she now considers him a role model for coaching.

“I keep write ups from my high school basketball games from him,” Colhoff said. “I pull from them for a little inspiration from time to time. The way I coach stems a lot from the way he coached.” 

Playing for Mattucci, Colhoff learned how to develop players, focusing on their mental toughness. She jokes she has borrowed and stolen many of his coaching methods.

While Colhoff was at college, she realized coaching soccer at the collegiate level was a real opportunity, a “perfect storm.” She began coaching with a company called Coerver Soccer as a camp coach. She worked on developing skills in young players. 

After graduating from Loyola, the former Rambler moved to Guatemala for a year and worked for a non-profit called Soccer Without Borders. There, Colhoff helped start education and soccer programs for young girls and boys in Guatemala.

Colhoff then took her coaching aspirations to Spain while studying abroad for her masters degree through Lewis University. She had the opportunity to coach with professional teams like Hercules women’s professional soccer club, which had youth development programs.

On her time abroad with soccer, Colhoff described how her experiences opened many doors for her.

“It’s like an international language in itself, so you can kind of go anywhere and make friends through it,” Colhoff said. “It’s been a great experience for me — a great vehicle to take me all over the world.”

Colhoff began her college coaching career as an assistant while obtaining her masters at Lewis. After Colhoff’s third season there, her former assistant coach from Loyola contacted her about coaching at the University of Illinois at Chicago. It would be the school’s first Division I women’s soccer program.

“I was there for four years while we started the program,” Colhoff said. “I think helping start a program from the ground up helped prepare me for this next phase because you’re doing everything from building culture, to building a style of play, team rules and everything in between.”

In 2018, Colhoff came to NIU to become the women’s soccer team head coach. Having grown up in Buffalo Grove, the coach was very familiar with NIU. Some of her family attended school here. She played against the Huskies while gearing up for the Ramblers. She even coached against NIU at every school she coached at previously, so she became familiar with the program.

“I always knew about the school and the program, and I always thought to myself, ‘There’s no reason this team shouldn’t be at the top of the MAC,’” Colhoff said.

Once at NIU, Colhoff wanted to make a positive impact on her players, which has driven her previously at other schools. She explained how the department was supportive of her coaching style and the “holistic development of student-athletes.”

With the athletic department behind her and its genuine care for the well-being of the student-athletes, coming to NIU was a “no-brainer” for Colhoff. It also didn’t hurt that NIU is so close to home.

“I get to see my grandma, my parents and my family,” Colhoff said. “They can come to the games, and it’s great to see the support in the stands.”

Colhoff’s first season at the helm of the team was not easy, as the team dealt with many injuries, which made building a culture difficult. Her focus this year was to continue building the culture within the team and doing everything to make sure her players are staying healthy and preventing the likelihood of future injuries. 

While her second season didn’t go as well as she had hoped, Colhoff is preparing her younger players for the seasons ahead. She is trying to build consistency with her team, as they’ve struggled at times to play full matches at peak intensity. Despite the lack of immediate success, she invites the challenge. Colhoff’s competitiveness as a former player fuels her as a coach. Her goal is to help her players grow as players and as adults. 

“The most important piece is that this is the best way for me to give back through a game that has given me a lot,” Colhoff said. “I always say I tricked someone into paying me to do what I love, so I’m not turning back.”