Libby Hielkema, midfielder, playing for her high school Lynden Christian. // Photo courtesy of Lynden Tribune
The Western women’s soccer team will be adding many new faces to the roster for the 2019-2020 season.
With eight seniors graduating before the fall season begins, the team has recruited nine new members. Head coach Travis Connell said two of the incoming players, Libby Hielkema and Payton Neal, will be the impact players to look out for.
Hielkema, a local from Lynden, attended Lynden Christian High School and will be taking on the position of midfielder for Western’s team in the fall. She said the proximity of the school was just one reason she chose Western.
“The overall atmosphere and style of play really drew me in,” Hielkema said. “I also love the campus and soccer field. I hear their work ethic is great and they click well as a team.”
Hielkema said the recruiting process was amazing. When she received the email from coach Connell saying they wanted her to come and play, she felt it was a perfect fit.
“I’m super excited for this opportunity that I’ve been given and I can’t wait to see what I can contribute to the team. I’m excited to call WWU my home,” she said.
Joining Hielkema as one of the team’s new impact players is Payton Neal, a forward and midfielder from Seattle. Neal attended Bishop Blanchet High School and played for the Reign FC club soccer team.
Neal has been playing soccer since she was five and played high school soccer her first and second year. She then participated in the U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy, which prohibits playing in high school soccer.
Neal said she felt at home when she visited Western and fell in love with the competitive environment and the team.
“One of the things I love about WWU’s soccer program was how welcoming the girls were when I first did my visit,” Neal said. “Western, I am all yours and I can’t wait be a part and compete for the Vikings.”
As for the rest of the eight new recruits, joining Neal is forward Katie Watt.
The third and final forward for the Western team is one of the two out-of-state recruits. Drew Baty, who hails from Larkspur, Colorado, played at Castle View High School.
The second out-of-state recruit is Allison Lepp, a midfielder from Minot, North Dakota, who played at Minot High School.
The remaining midfielder is Jillian Langei, also a local who played for Bellingham High School.
The final three players include defenders Makenzie Burks and Estera Levinte. Coming from Tacoma, Burks played at Stadium High School and for the Washington Premier Elite Clubs National League club team. Levinte is from Bothell, and played for Bothell High School as well as the Surf FC club team.
The final recruit for Westerns team is Erin Smith, a transfer from Whatcom Community College. Smith, a junior, was the only goalkeeper recruited for the season and was awarded All-Star status in the North Region for her playing at WCC as a sophomore.
The Western women’s soccer team went 18-3-2 in the 2018-2019 season and clinched the GNAC championship title.