One of the first times Aminata Kalokoh played soccer, she tackled another girl and sat on her.
It wasn’t that her intent was malicious. She was just following her coach’s instruction not to let the other team score.
“That’s how little she knew about the game or the rules,” said her mother, Erin Dignam.
These days, it’s safe to say Kalokoh is more well-versed in soccer. Adopted from Sierra Leone when she was about 7 years old, the Crossroads School senior is heading to Stanford University next year and planning to continue her athletic career with the Cardinal women’s soccer team.
Kalokoh is hoping to help a Stanford program that made its 18th consecutive NCAA Tournament this past season, when the team posted an overall record of 19-2-2, went 10-0-1 in conference play to win the Pac-12 title and reached the national quarterfinals under longtime coach Paul Ratcliffe.
Kalokoh was drawn to Stanford by its academic rigor and athletic excellence. She verbally committed to the Bay Area school the summer before her junior year and received support from Cardinal coaching staff during admissions, according to Dignam.
“It was a hard road,” Kalokoh said,” but it was all worth it.”
The application process was just a fragment of the journey for Kalokoh, who wasn’t exactly familiar with soccer when Dignam adopted her. Dignam said she signed her up for a youth league simply to help Kalokoh make friends.
The journey changed when Kalokoh, who attended Franklin Elementary and Lincoln Middle schools before starting at Crossroads, met Pendo Duku. A refugee from Sudan, Duku was a graduate student under UCLA professor Jonathan Stewart, Kalokoh’s youth coach. And Stewart’s wife, Elyse, thought Duku and Kalokoh had a lot in common.
“He turned out to be a great soccer player and really stepped up as a friend and ended up being Ami’s father figure,” said Dignam, who is single. “He is the one who told me she should play club. … I never thought it would end up here.”
Kalokoh picked up the sport quickly. She made an Olympic Development Program team, attended regional camps and got invited into a national training pool. She’s played for the Southern California Blues, the Eagles Soccer Club and Strikers FC.
“It all happened very fast,” Dignam said. “The girls she competed with had played soccer a lot longer and way more often. She got swept up in it because she loves to compete. She craved and thrived on more competition.”
That was certainly the case at Crossroads, where she scored 42 goals as a freshman. She has earned multiple all-league honors in her stellar career with the Roadrunners.
Kalokoh is interested in education, psychology and writing, and she plans to sample different classes in her first year at Stanford to get a better idea of what she wants to pursue. Regardless, she eventually wants to go back to Sierra Leone to improve schools there.
“Ami has been given the opportunity to get educated on a higher level, and she is able to see how lucky she is to have that opportunity,” Dignam said.