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Zona Kinnaman a rarity as D-I student-athlete and mother
Nevada women’s soccer star Zona Kinnaman is the rare D-I student-athlete who doubles as a mother, but she continues to push for her dreams to inspire her daughter and other women. (Courtesy: Zona Kinnaman)

Zona Kinnaman a rarity as D-I student-athlete and mother

RENO, Nev. (BVM) – Like everyone else, University of Nevada women’s soccer defender Zona Kinnaman was thrown a curveball in life during the COVID-19 pandemic. While most people’s adjustments had to do with wearing masks or social distancing, Kinnaman’s was of a whole different kind — she was pregnant.

“It was after COVID hit and it was right when we got back to go back to school,” Kinnaman said.

While she initially returned to practice with her soccer team at Campbell University, she could tell there were some definite changes. After seeing her doctor, it was confirmed, and just like that, Kinnaman’s world was flipped on its head.

“I went through a full preseason being pregnant and not knowing,” Kinnaman said. “I kind of had a weird feeling. I took the test and it was positive. I was really shaken because I didn’t know what I was going to do. It was kind of a surreal moment of my life.”

Kinnaman and the father ultimately decided to keep the baby which meant that she would have to be out of soccer for the duration of her pregnancy, a difficult decision for a woman whose whole life had revolved around the sport.

“As a woman, being an athlete and becoming pregnant that’s a big shift in your life and in your mentality. You’d have to give up a lot to do both or even keep one or the other,” Kinnaman said. “It was a big mind shift for me.”

However, once Kinnaman welcomed her daughter Zella into the world, she knew all the decisions she made up to that point were worth it.

“It’s been worth it and then some,” Kinnaman said. “I can’t even comprehend the love and joy and everything I’ve gone through. I honestly believe being a student-athlete helped prepare me for a lot of the hard mental sacrifices and hard days that happened becoming a mom.” 

Zona Kinnaman Nevada Wolf Pack women's soccer
Zona has raised her 2-year-old daughter as a single mother and D-I student-athlete. (Courtesy: Zona Kinnaman)

After about a year of raising Zella, Kinnaman had a sense of loss. She was missing soccer and felt that she wasn’t quite ready to leave the game she loved, despite the difficult journey back. She would have to not only work to get back to game shape, but she would also have to come back while raising a child as a single mother. But she remained undeterred.

“I knew a part of me felt like it was missing because I never got to fully finish my collegiate experience and give soccer all of the energy that I wanted to,” Kinnaman said. “I never got to finish my own personal dream of finishing my college career or even giving myself the opportunity to play pro or go beyond that when that was my original dream as a kid. After I gave birth to her, I decided I wanted to take my life into my own hands and I wanted to continue pushing for that dream and I wanted to take Zella with me.”

Kinnaman entered her name into the transfer portal in 2022 after sitting out two calendar years of soccer. While the fifth-year defender looked at many programs, the team at the University of Nevada just felt different.

“I talked to quite a few schools when I entered the transfer portal and I went on a couple visits, but when I came to Nevada the coaches and the girls brought us in like we were family,” Kinnaman said. “Nobody looked at me weird because I had a child and everybody embraced us because I had a child.”

Following her first season with the Wolf Pack, Kinnaman and Zella have both been welcomed with open arms. Kinnaman finished her first season in Reno starting 12 of 18 games while playing all 90 minutes in seven contests.

Zona Kinnaman University of Nevada Wolf Pack women's soccer
Kinnaman earned 12 starts and played all 90 minutes in seven games during her first year with the Wolf Pack last season. (Courtesy: Nevada Athletics)

Zella meanwhile earned a role as a part-time team mascot.

“She’s like our little mascot here,” Kinnaman said. “Zella loves the team. I tell her all the time, ‘Do you want to go see mommy play?’ and she gets super excited. She will get out her little game day jersey my mom and I made for her and she’ll get ready wearing the Nevada scrunchies and have all the gear on… Everybody runs and follows her and asks for hugs and fist bumps and high fives. Everybody is so joyful around her and I couldn’t imagine a better team to be with her.”


My biggest blessing sharing my passion with me🫶🏼 couldnt be more grateful to be here! #UNR #d1athlete #soccer #springtraining2023 #momsoftiktok #momathlete #toddlersoftiktok

♬ Favorite Song – Toosii

Though there have been hardships during her first year, such as maintaining a proper work-life balance, Kinnaman has a solid network of friends, teammates and coaches to help her raise Zella while she finishes her dream of being a D-I soccer player. This has made her relationship not only to her team closer, but also to the University of Nevada community as a whole.

“They’ve really taken her on like she’s a part of the team and I couldn’t be more thankful for the staff, the coaches and the girls here and the support I’ve had here at Nevada,” Kinnaman said. “It’s completely changed the way I’ve come back from pregnancy and the way I’ve grown as a mom and as an athlete with my own aspirations as well.”


This team will forever have a big piece of my heart ❤️‍🔥 #gopack #nevada #UNR #soccer #D1 #momathlete #CapCut

♬ sonido original – 🔟

Kinnaman is unafraid of telling others what she is doing as her social media pages are filled with not only her soccer successes but photos, videos and references to Zella as well. The soccer star hopes that she will be able to inspire other student-athlete mothers or mothers in general that they can do whatever they set their minds to.

“I honestly think women need other strong women to look at,” Kinnaman said. “I think being a woman people think you can’t have both and you can’t do whatever you want to do and whatever you set your mind to and for me [I feel] we are so powerful as women. We can create life and do these amazing things with our bodies but at the end of the day, passion is what drives us. For me, I want to share my passion of being an athlete and being a mom and I think it’s really cool that I can do both.”

Zona Kinnaman University of Nevada Wolf Pack women's soccer
Kinnaman will continue to inspire her daughter as she plays one final season with Nevada next fall. (Courtesy: Nevada Athletics)

With one year of eligibility remaining, Kinnaman is preparing for one last soccer season. Alongside her, as always, will be Zella. Kinnaman hopes one day Zella will learn from her mother’s experience and realize it’s never impossible to reach your goals.

“I hope that when she hears my story that it empowers her and it inspires her to be like, ‘If my mom can do this then anything I set my mind to I can do this as well,’” Kinnaman said. “I’m going to help push her to become who she wants to become and use my story to let her know that this is possible you can do anything you set your mind to.”


I love being able to share this part of my life with her #CapCut #momsoftiktok #UNR #soccer #D1 #blessed

♬ original sound – Zona Kinnaman

So what does Mother’s Day mean to Zona Kinnaman?

“It’s a 24/7 job, you don’t stop being a mom,” Kinnaman said. “So it’s really like moms are amazing people and selfless and I think that mothers deserve a lot more credit than they get because they do the dirty work and they often do it when people don’t see it and they don’t talk about it because that’s what a mother does. I just think mothers are badass honestly.”