Following up its first national championship in program history, the Western women’s soccer team is tasked with the challenge of reloading a talented roster.
Thankfully for them, winning a title has its perks.
After losing only five players from last season to graduation, Western brought in seven recruits from Washington state to help maintain the Viking’s high level of success.
Western’s head coach Travis Connell is particularly pleased and optimistic about this year’s incoming recruits.
“I’ve grown up around them and got to go to a lot of the games. There’s always been a part of me that wanted to be a Viking, ever since I was younger and watching Claire Morgan play. When I was little I’d go to the games, just visualizing myself in the uniform.”
“We’re really excited about this group,” Connell said. “What they’ve accomplished on the field is probably one of the strongest classes we’ve ever had. We expect them to make a big impact on our program.”
One vital asset Connell looks for in all his recruits is character. Do they rise above their mistakes?
“What makes good players great is the character they have inside of them,” Connell said. “The most valuable time for me when I’m evaluating players is after they make mistakes or after their team goes down a goal.”
For Bellingham High School senior Alice Hiebert, getting a chance to play for Western is a dream come true.
“I’ve grown up around them and got to go to a lot of the games,” Hiebert said. “There’s always been a part of me that wanted to be a Viking, ever since I was younger and watching Claire Morgan play. When I was little I’d go to the games, just visualizing myself in the uniform.”
Assistant coach Claire Morgan, a former Western women’s soccer player, said Hiebert’s skill set and mentality were factors in her recruiting.
“Alice is a great soccer player, but she’s also a great person,” Morgan said. “The type of student athlete we’re recruiting now is not only a great player on the field, but has a great character off the field. She meets both of those standards.”
Being comfortable and familiar with the coaches made it an easy choice to sign with Western.
“I’ve had the privilege of getting to work with [some of the Western coaches] over the years,” Hiebert said. “Travis was my club coach for three years. The coaching staff was definitely a big part of my decision.”
The consistency of the program has been a factor in bringing those talented and high-character recruits to Western.
“Not just winning the championship, but being a good program over the last five years,” Connell said. “We’ve taken a big step forward as a program. When you’re making Final Four after Final Four, then people start taking notice.”
The Vikings have seen an influx of potential transfer students seeking scholarships.
“There’s way more transfers that contact us,” Connell said. “There’s a lot of kids that go away to Division I schools, then for whatever reason, it doesn’t work out. Now a lot of those kids are contacting us, so we’ve benefited in that way.”
Connell starts recruiting as early as some players’ junior year of high school.
“My first contact with [the new recruits] was two years ago, so it’s a big process,” Connell said. “When we first reach out to players, a lot more of them get back to us now. I attribute a lot of that to the success our players have had on the field over the last five years.”