Cholewa, Farnsworth Foster Winning Culture With Vikings
Georg Cholewa (left) and Drew Farnsworth both earned All-GNAC honors in 2019 after helping to lead the Vikings to the GNAC title and a postseason berth.
Georg Cholewa (left) and Drew Farnsworth both earned All-GNAC honors in 2019 after helping to lead the Vikings to the GNAC title and a postseason berth.

Monday, February 22, 2021
by Kaho Akau, GNAC Media Relations Assistant

BELLINGHAM, Wash. – They came from opposite ends of the world. Now they’re inseparable.

Georg Cholewa and Drew Farnsworth both joined the Western Washington University men’s soccer team in 2017 with no idea what to expect. Neither had been to Bellingham before, but a chance to play soccer abroad was too good to pass up.

“I was looking for a new challenge in my life that could also provide me with new experiences,” said Cholewa, a senior midfielder from Leipzig, Germany. “Studying and playing soccer in a foreign country like the U.S. gave me the opportunity to improve both my soccer and English skills.”

“Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to play soccer abroad,” said Farnsworth, a fellow senior midfielder from Auckland, New Zealand. “Playing soccer while studying in the U.S. seemed like an amazing opportunity.”

Cholewa and Farnsworth come from very different backgrounds. Despite their differences, both found their way to Western Washington.

Cholewa bounced around from major city to major city growing up in Saxony, a German state with a population of about 4.1 million people. He and his friends would use public transportation to hang out at parks, restaurants and waterfronts during their free time. Because of the hustle that comes with living an urban lifestyle, he was almost never home because there was always something happening downtown.

“I’m from a big city and wanted to experience life in a calm environment to focus on both school and soccer,” Cholewa said. “I often miss the pace of my old lifestyle because there were more people that I encountered every day, but Western Washington offered the qualities I was looking for.”

Farnsworth grew up in New Plymouth, a coastal city on New Zealand’s North Island known for its pristine beaches. Vikings’ assistant coach Kyle Segebart coached and played professionally in New Zealand, so he knew a few of Farnsworth’s former coaches. When Farnsworth heard about Western Washington, he did some research on the men’s soccer program and the Bellingham area.

The internet only told him so much and he knew the beaches would be a lot colder than those in New Plymouth, but he was sold anyway.

“When I got on the plane, I didn’t know what to expect,” Farnsworth said. “When I agreed to play for Western Washington, the only information I had came from what I found online and from talking with the coaches. Now my teammates are like my family.”

Cholewa and Farnsworth are part of a trio of international players on the Vikings’ men’s soccer team, which also includes junior defender Iakov Shmelev, who was born and raised in Togliatti, Russia, but attended Eastlake High School in Sammamish, Washington.

While it took some time for them to adjust to life in the U.S., their teammates, coaches and the rest of the WWU community welcomed them with open arms.

“When our teammates aren’t making fun of our accents, we teach them a thing or two about our home countries,” Farnsworth joked. “It would be awesome to show some of them around New Zealand someday.”

Several teammates have taken them around Bellingham and the Pacific Northwest over the years. Some even invite them to spend holidays with their families. The International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) office at WWU has also been a primary resource for them to find information about news, upcoming events and tips on living and attending college in the states.

“Western Washington is a very welcoming community for international students,” Cholewa said. “The culture here is different from Germany’s but they also have similarities. I often encounter students who want to learn more about my culture. Some of them even have relatives in Germany, which is very heartwarming for me to hear.”

Cholewa and Farnsworth have shared some great memories on the field, but none of those memories tops winning the GNAC title and earning the conference’s automatic berth to the NCAA Division II Men’s Soccer Championship in 2019. The Vikings finished the season with a 13-5-1 overall record and a 10-1-1 conference mark to advance to the postseason for just the second time in program history.

Cholewa earned First Team All-GNAC honors for the second straight season in 2019 after he scored four goals and added a GNAC-best nine assists. He was named the United Soccer Coaches NCAA Division II Men’s Soccer Player of the Week on Oct. 29.

Farnsworth garnered Honorable Mention All-GNAC honors for the second consecutive season. He started all 19 matches for the Vikings, finishing with four goals and two assists, including the assist on a last-second game-tying goal against Saint Martin’s at home on Oct. 5.

“The culture within the team is special because we enjoy ourselves on and off the field,” Farnsworth said. “But when it comes game time, we are extremely competitive.”

Winning is an expectation at Western Washington, and the senior midfielders have been key pieces in building a culture of excellence. A lot of that culture has been built as a direct result of how close the team is off the field. And it all starts with Cholewa and Farnsworth.

Cholewa and Farnsworth lived in the same dorm as freshmen and immediately connected. During the first few weeks of their freshman year, Farnsworth taught Cholewa some English words, which Farnsworth said was an amusing process.

The fact that they play the same position, combined with the hours spent playing video games together, catalyzed their friendship. Now seniors, they live in adjacent bedrooms in a house with a handful of their teammates.

“Drew and I spend a lot of time together on and off the field,” Cholewa said. “He is a great friend and we spend a lot of our vacation time together.”

Cholewa and Farnsworth are both outdoor enthusiasts. Attending college in Bellingham has provided them with more adventures than they may have anticipated when they first stepped foot at Western Washington. The two enjoy hiking, camping and playing soccer with their friends and even went on a road trip down to the Oregon coast to go surfing last summer.

“Georg is always a laugh and we have great memories together, whether it’s some sort of camping trip or just kicking each other on the field at practice,” Farnsworth said.

Sports are a lot more fun when your teammates are also your best friends, and Cholewa and Farnsworth’s camaraderie is contagious on the field and in the Vikings’ locker room.

Whether they hang around the states a little longer or head back home when their college soccer careers are over, Western Washington will always have a special place in their hearts.

“This has all been a great experience that has broadened my perspectives of the world,” Cholewa said. “I love that Western Washington promotes open-mindedness and pushes for all students to be the best possible versions of themselves.”