The junior forward has spent years playing for his country before arriving in Windermere last year.
During Windermere Prep’s Spring Break toward the end of March, many students went off to enjoy some down time.
Gunnar Studenhofft, a junior, could have been one of them, but instead, he was doing something that most athletes — and non-athletes — dream about: Playing for his country.
A native of the Cayman Islands, Studenhofft traveled to Bradenton to play alongside his fellow countrymen on the Under-17 National Soccer Team, which was competing at the IMG Academy in a CONCACAF tournament.
Although it wasn’t his first stint on the national team, being able to represent his home still remains as one of his proudest achievements.
“That means everything to me,” Studenhofft said. “I’m playing for my country; I’m representing the people where I come from. When I put on that shirt, it means more than football — it means country, it means family and your history. Putting on that shirt and playing for my country is a big thing for me, and I’ll always be honored to play for my country.”
The week before the tourney, Studenhofft and his team got in some friendly matches against IMG Academy and the Tampa Bay Rowdies (of the USL), before going on to their CONCACAF group.
In Bradenton, his Cayman Islands team was matched up against the U-17 teams from Nicaragua, Grenada and St. Vincent. The top-place finisher qualified and move on to the Gold Cup.
During the qualifiers, the Cayman Islands played solid soccer, but a 3-0 defeat to eventual champs Nicaragua led to a second-place finish.
“The mental part of the game (is) where we fell off — we kind of were hesitant in our play,” Studenhofft said. “Nicaragua were capitalizing on our weaknesses, and they ended up taking advantage of that and got the win in that game.”
Not only were there challenges in dealing with a tough Nicaraguan side, but also Studenhofft played with an injury most of that week. But that didn’t ruin the fun — which included the highlight of beating Grenada with a dominant, quick style of soccer. It also didn’t negate just how much the team has grown over the years.
“Our team has improved so much over the years — coaching-wise and player-wise,” Studenhofft said. “I’m looking to come back for the next tournament and be back out there doing my thing — scoring goals.”
Studenhofft has had a natural knack for finding the back of the net ever since he was introduced to The Beautiful Game at 3 years of age.
Both of Studenhofft’s parents were talented soccer players in their day and motivated the budding star to dig deep into the sport. They saw his talent and potential, and wanted him to pursue his dreams of playing professionally.
Over the next several years, Studenhofft trained at multiple soccer academies, where he perfected his game. Such talent caught the attention of the soccer community in the Cayman Islands — leading Studenhofft to start playing for the U-13 National Team before going through each successive team after that.
“When I was 14 years old, I played on the Under-17 National Team — from a young age I have been playing on a high level,” Studenhofft said. “I’ve been growing with the program and its players — I’ve known every player since I was 10 years old — from the primary football league to the mens national team.”
Then in August 2018, Studenhofft made his next big move when he arrived at Windermere Prep, which he chose primarily for its academics (and soccer). He said he originally learned about the school from a friend, who had also attended Windermere Prep.
Since then, Studenhofft has been living in Central Florida, which has required some adjustments — both on and off the soccer field.
“I’m playing for my country; I’m representing the people where I come from. When I put on that shirt, it means more than football — it means country, it means family and your history.
— Gunnar Studenhofft
Under the guidance of Lakers head coach Jonathan Griffiths, Studenhofft has had to take time to learn the styles taught here in the States.
“I have to adjust to the pace of the game, especially at Rush Academy (his club team) — the level of football is high, and I enjoy being at a high level,” Studenhofft said. “Windermere (Prep) has helped me adjust to the way that America plays football, because where I come from, it’s a UK-based territory, so we are based on a UK style of football. Coming to America, I realize that I have a lot to learn, but I’ve realized this is only the beginning of my career.”
Making those adjustments and honing his game are vital for Studenhofft, especially if he wants to see his goals of playing at the collegiate and professional levels come to fruition.
And if he makes it to the highest of levels — whether that be the English Premier League or the Bundesliga (Germany) — there’s one thing that’ll stay with him for as long as he plays his game: The understanding that he is playing for more than just himself.
“I know I’m going to make it,” Studenhofft said. “I got to do this for my mom, my family — opportunities like this don’t come around to everyone. I’m fortunate to be at this school … and I hope to inspire many people from where I come from.”