Lining the walls of Western women’s soccer head coach Travis Connell’s office are pictures of All-Americans from past soccer teams.
When Sierra Shugarts stepped into the office as a freshman, she marveled at the players who had come before her and been selected for the prestigious award. Then she made a promise to Connell.
“I told him, ‘I’m going to be on your wall by the end of my years here,’” Shugarts said.
Shugarts is on her way to keeping her promise.
The junior center back, and captain of the women’s soccer team, has helped guide the Vikings to an undefeated regular season, a number one NCAA Division II ranking and a fifth straight Great Northwest Athletic Conference regular season title. She’s won back-to-back
GNAC Defender of the Week awards in 2016, and followed up her first career goal against Concordia University with goals in each of Western’s next two games.
But Shugarts didn’t always have her mind set on soccer. In fact, growing up, she was the least interested in sports out of her whole family.
“When I was little I would only play for the pizza parties and the trophies,” Shugarts said.
Her father, Curtis Shugarts, wasn’t going to let his daughter give up on soccer so easily. Curtis played soccer at the University of Washington from 1981-83 and coached Shugarts several seasons in her youth.
“She doesn’t like to lose and so she typically doesn’t, which is good. The most pressure is the pressure she puts on herself.”
“I always tried to make it fun,” Curtis Shugarts said. “My goal was to make them want to play the following season.”
Sierra Shugarts did come back each season, and eventually started playing for Washington Premier FC, one of the top youth soccer programs in Washington state. As soon as Sierra Shugarts started playing select soccer, she developed a competitive itch, Curtis Shugartssaid.
“She really developed a passion and you’d see a tear or two if we lost a game,” Curtis Shugarts said. “She doesn’t like to lose and so she typically doesn’t, which is good. The most pressure is the pressure she puts on herself. I think she got that from me.”
Sierra Shugarts thrived while playing high school soccer at Decatur High School in Federal Way. She was named team captain and most valuable player, and earned league-wide recognition as a First Team South Puget Sound League all-star.
By this time, she caught coach Connell’s attention, who was aggressively recruiting her.
“You can tell pretty quickly if people have the athleticism, skill and decision making. That stuff all stuck out right away when we saw Sierra play,” Connell said. “She’s one of the best athletes on the field in every match she plays, even in college now, but you can imagine in youth soccer as well.”
Shugarts has been a Swiss Army knife for Western this year. Defensively, she’s helped the Vikings achieve the third-best goals against average (0.281) in Division II and has scored three goals, tied for fourth on the team.
“She has the skill set to be able to create and attack, but at the same time is a hard-nosed defender that can stop people,” Connell said. “What really has blossomed in her this year, though, is her ability to just understand the big moments of the game…She’s had the ability and now she’s recognizing those moments and she’s having such a big impact on the outcome of matches.”
Shugarts said her role has been more mental than physical this year.
“You don’t necessarily run the most or get the most touches but you’re in there the whole game, so you have to be on the whole time,” Shugarts said.
Shugarts has an effect on everyone she meets, including senior defender Erin Russell. Russell said she knew immediately Shugarts was approachable, and the two are now best friends and roommates.
“She’s really funny and fun to be around,” Russell said. “If you’re having a bad day, you can come talk to her and she’s open to talk about anything.”
Despite being just a junior, Shugarts said she relishes the role of team captain because people listen to her and girls can come talk to her any time. Russell said she was the right choice for captain.
“I was 100 percent on board,” Russell said. “Yeah it’d be cool to be captain, but she was the best fit hands down. There was not one other person that I could think of, not even myself.”
With her back-to-back GNAC Defender of the Week awards, Shugarts became the first to take the honors two weeks straight since it was split into an offensive and defensive award in 2012.
“It’s fun to see your hard work pay off,” Shugarts said. “Obviously you don’t play for the awards but it is nice to be recognized.”
As far as being named an All-American, Connell said Shugarts isn’t far off the mark.
“Even back then as a freshman, she had a pretty good idea that it was within her ability,” Connell said. “That’s exactly what you want from your players right? You want them to have goals, dreams, passion and drive and there’s been no shortage of that with her.”
Western has two regular season games left before postseason play starts. Last year, Western made it to the Division II Final Four, before losing to eventual three-time defending national champion Grand Valley State University, 3-2.
“I feel like we can go so far this year and it’s so exciting,” Shugarts said. “We have everything that we were missing last year.”