All-Area Girls' Soccer Player of Year: Sarah Van Wingerden

All-Area Girls' Soccer Player of Year: Sarah Van Wingerden

MAHOMET — Sarah Van Wingerden finished a girls’ soccer practice with her club team in eighth grade.

Close friend and teammate Tori Rolson asked Van Wingerden what her plans were after Illinois FC practice ended. Wanting Van Wingerden to accept an invitation to hang out.

Nope. It wasn’t because she didn’t like Rolson. Far from it.

Van Wingerden had more work to do. Practice against older boys’ teams awaited.

“With the boys, I kept my mouth shut,” said Van Wingerden, who just finished her career as one of the best to come through the Mahomet-Seymour program. “I was the silent girl at practices, but I worked really hard.”

Rolson saw the work firsthand. The Bulldogs’ goalkeeper this past season, Rolson expected Van Wingerden to change the outcome of a match with a swift pass, a quick-striking goal or a key defensive play.

“She’s definitely going to be the player that people look up and want to be better than her in the future,” Rolson said. “She would want that because she always pushed people to play super hard.”

Van Wingerden was the area standard for girls’ soccer players this spring. It wasn’t just the 19 goals, 12 assists and five game-winning goals that elevated the M-S senior midfielder to become The News-Gazette’s 17th annual All-Area Player of the Year and second Bulldog chosen after Kelsie Donley won the honor in 2009.

“I knew how bad she wanted to be Player of the Year,” Rolson said. “She always pushed us, but she didn’t always want the focus on her. Watching her succeed so much has been great to see.”

She did so despite a defender constantly nearby in almost every match this spring. Which was different from what she experienced in previous seasons.

“You had to learn ways of getting around that,” Van Wingerden said. “Mentally, it was harder because you’d go into a game knowing, ‘Well, I’m not going to touch the ball as much,’ whereas last year I could just dribble around the whole field, but you had to find ways to work with your teammates and ways for them to work with you.”

● ● ●

Scott Van Wingerden witnessed the personality his daughter would exhibit later in life at an early age.

“When she was 3 years old, we were having a disagreement, and I can remember her saying, ‘I want to be in charge,’ ” Scott said with a laugh recently. “I just looked at my wife and thought, ‘Oh, we’re in trouble.’ ”

Strong-willed is one way Lori Van Wingerden describes her daughter, who is a few months away from leaving to attend and play soccer at Wheaton College, a Division III school in suburban Chicago.

“From the time she was born, she wanted to excel at what she did,” Lori said. “There were times where she wanted to rule the family when it wasn’t time yet, and over time she just matured really well and started to learn those limits. Soccer was great. It channeled all that energy she had.”

Competitive is how M-S coach Joey Gruner depicts the four-year starter who accumulated 43 career goals and 28 career assists while M-S compiled a 56-14-7 record with Van Wingerden on the roster.

“She’s one of the most driven athletes that I’ve ever coached,” Gruner said. “She’s really focused on ‘How do I make my teammates and my team better?’ That’s one of the things that’s impressed me the most with her was how she learned to navigate that as a team leader.”

● ● ●

Before Van Wingerden impressed opposing high school coaches with her footwork, dribbling, passing and shooting, her time spent playing against boys magnified areas she needed to improve.

“I didn’t know if that was a good idea at the time, but it really helped me and pushed me,” Van Wingerden said. “In playing with the boys, I wouldn’t be as good with some stuff, so I would struggle and get the ball taken away from me. I wasn’t as fast, but it would make me mad, so I would go after it even harder.”

Mom was appreciative of the Illinois FC staff for allowing Sarah to test her skills against older and talented competition.

“It was a really great plan for us,” Lori said. “We had seen families who had really committed players that played year-round have to travel to Chicago or St. Louis to play, but it was great that we were able to stay in the area. We are very thankful for that from a family standpoint.”

Dad was a little apprehensive about the plan when it was first broached.

“Thankfully the guys respected her, and one of the exciting points was when they would divide up into teams, and they’d pick her as one of the earlier picks,” Scott said. “She didn’t want to be thought of as the weakest player on the team, and she held her own.”

● ● ●

Van Wingerden had an idea about what college she wanted to attend before she had her first high school class. Watching cousins Ben Dons and Janna Dons play men’s and women’s soccer, respectively, at Wheaton College gave her that motivation.

She’ll play for the Thunder next season, but that might not fit in as her most noteworthy experience in college. Van Wingerden is planning to major in pre-med and has received a four-year scholarship that will cover all expenses except room and board because she is joining the school’s ROTC program. If she completes her degree, she’ll have a military commitment to the Army, where she will likely be stationed at a hospital in the States or overseas.

“She won’t on the front line or in the regular Army, which is a relief to us,” Scott said, “but she’ll get some experience of being in the military and what that’s like.”

Helping others is a constant for Van Wingerden.

“When Sarah is off the field, she is a very compassionate person,” Gruner said. “She spends her time in the summers working at kids’ camps, and she works with younger soccer players and gives her time to do tutoring. She’s a person who’s very giving.”

● ● ●

Ask Van Wingerden about her last season at M-S and smiles are bound to arrive.

From the time the team practiced shooting and slide tackling in the mud to the scooter “gang,” she and Rolson helped form where players would ride scooters to practices to M-S playing in a Class 2A sectional championship match, the past three months brought immense pride to Van Wingerden.

“The group of girls are amazing,” Van Wingerden said. “What we played for was more than just winning and soccer. For most of the girls, it was representing our faith, too, out on the field. It was building a team and representing our school.”

They did the latter well in the postseason. The Bulldogs beat Centennial. Then Champaign Central to win a regional title. And then knocked off Morris to claim the program’s first sectional win before losing 4-2 to Normal West in a sectional championship match. The same Normal West team that finished second in state.

“Our postseason was really fun,” Van Wingerden said. “We were surprised, but it also brings us back to the faith thing. We had a verse that we put in our shoes in every postseason game. It was Matthew 19:26, and it said, ‘Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it was impossible, but with God, all things are possible.” ’ That kind of carried us through. Everyone knew that faith aspect was real important to them. We weren’t just doing it for ourselves.”

Van Wingerden had a stellar postseason, accumulating three goals and two assists.

“I knew no matter where she had the ball, it was in a good spot,” Rolson said. “It was always awesome to watch because she can create opportunities like no player I’ve ever seen.”

● ● ●

Soccer didn’t just end for Van Wingerden once the Bulldogs’ season did. A group of her teammates met at Soccer Planet in Urbana for a graduation party. Needless to say, impromptu games broke out.

“We were beating the other teams there because we knew where we all were on the field,” Van Wingerden said. “We had really strong leaders on the team this year, and that really brought everyone together.”

Leaders like Van Wingerden. The skills she brought to the M-S program were evident from the get-go during her freshman season, but watching the maturation Van Wingerden has undergone the last four years leaves Gruner equally pleased as any highlight she produced on the field.   

“What impresses me the most is her vision of the entire field, knowing not only what she wants to do with the ball but what she wants everyone else to do with the ball,” Gruner said. “It’s been a progression for her each year, and I’m really happy with how far she’s come.”

First team

Carmen Gewirth    Urbana Uni High    So.    Midfielder
Maddy Chalifoux    Champaign Central    Jr.    Midfielder
Emica Quigley    Champaign Central    Jr.    Defender
Aleyna Brunner    Mahomet-Seymour    Jr.    Forward
Louisette Lukusa    St. Thomas More    Sr.    Forward
Catherine McHale    Mahomet-Seymour    Sr.    Midfielder
Sarah Van Wingerden    Mahomet-Seymour    Sr.    Midfielder
Lindsey Taylor    Centennial    Jr.    Defender
Michaela Ward    St. Thomas More    Jr.    Midfielder
Claire Redden    Champaign Central    Jr.    Forward
Ellie England    Urbana    Sr.    Midfielder
Lexi Wallen    St. Thomas More    Jr.    Goalkeeper

Looking back
News-Gazette girls’ soccer Players of the Year ...
2014    Sarah Van Wingerden    Mahomet-Seymour
2013    Dagny Olson    Centennial
2012    Katelynn Martinez    Centennial
2011    Chantal Meacham    Centennial    
2010    Dagny Olson    Centennial
2009    Kelsie Donley    Mahomet-Seymour
2008    Amanda Greco    Champaign Central
2007    Liz Clegg    Champaign Central
2006    Erica Houk    Urbana
2005    Ashley Bolen    Urbana
2004    Ella Masar    Urbana
2003    Megan Bushue    Centennial
2002    Tricia Johnson    Centennial
2001    Brittany Ward    Centennial
2000    Erica Peters    Champaign Central
1999    Katie Stephens    Urbana
1998    Katie Stephens    Urbana

... and Coaches of the Year
2014    Joey Gruner    Mahomet-Seymour
2013    James Johnson    St. Thomas More
2012    Hsiung Marler    Centennial

All-Area Second Team
Jia Curry-Bild    Urbana Uni High    Jr.    Goalkeeper
Claire Cowser    Centennial    Fr.    Midfielder
Morgan DeHaan    Mahomet-Seymour    Sr.    Midfielder
Kaitie Goodwin    Danville    Sr.    Midfielder
Randa Harshbarger    St. Thomas More    Sr.    Forward
Carissa Hwu    Urbana Uni High    Fr.    Midfielder
Katie Kulas    St. Thomas More    Sr.    Midfielder
Mia Miller    Champaign Central    Jr.    Defender
Paige Roberts    Mahomet-Seymour    So.    Defender
Tori Rolson    Mahomet-Seymour    Sr.    Goalkeeper
Alison Slaughter    Urbana    Jr.    Midfielder

All-Area Special Mention

CENTENNIAL — Sarah Beth Campos, So., Defender; Jenny Rooney, Sr., Midfielder
CHAMPAIGN CENTRAL — Hannah Hart, Jr., Defender; Maria Jimenez, So., Midfielder
DANVILLE — Dahaila Escobedo, Fr., Forward; Taylor Ellis, Jr., Midfielder
FIRST BAPTIST — Ashley Greazer, Jr., Midfielder; Kimmy Montgomery, Sr., Striker
JUDAH CHRISTIAN — Sarah Dunford, Sr., Forward; Cara Nash, So., Goalkeeper
MAHOMET-SEYMOUR — Natalie Fulk, Sr., Forward; Lauren Longfellow, Sr., Defender
MONTICELLO — Lydia Lienhart, So.,  Midfielder/Forward; Eilish McLean, So., Defender/ Midfielder; Kia Smith, Sr.,  Midfielder/Forward
ST. THOMAS MORE — Caroline Geubelle, So., Defender; Katie Gillette, Sr., Midfielder
URBANA — Rebecca Hanks, So., Midfielder; Kayla Lard, Sr., Goalkeeper; Sierra Poor, So., Midfielder
URBANA UNI HIGH — Tiye Baraka, So., Defender; Natalie Dullerud, So., Defender; Grace Lilly, Jr., Forward; Madeleine Nelson, So., Forward

All-Conference Teams
Big 12 Conference
First team
SENIORS: Ellie England, Urbana; Missy Ficek, Bloomington; Kaitie Goodwin, Danville; Tess Marcordes, Normal West; Erin Roegner, Normal Community; Marisa Zamudio, Bloomington.
JUNIORS: Maddy Chalifoux, Central; Natalie Freeman, Normal West; Zoie Holloway, Bloomington; Whitney Learned, Normal Community; Carolyn Peters, Normal West; Emica Quigley, Central; Claire Redden, Central; Dusti Rodgers, Normal Community; Alison Slaughter, Urbana; Lindsey Taylor, Centennial; Keely Theobald, Normal West; Abby Thompson, Normal West; Gabrielle Wegman, MacArthur.
FRESHMEN: Kayla Byrd, Normal Community; Claire Cowser, Centennial; Alyssa Frazier, Normal Community.

Honorable mention
SENIORS: Brionna Baltimore, Eisenhower; Mercedes Clemons, MacArthur; Kayla Lard, Urbana; Maureen Reidy, Bloomington.
JUNIORS: Claire Burnham, Eisenhower; Taylor Ellis, Danville; Hannah Hart, Central; Amber Helton, Normal West; Forest Jacobson, MacArthur; Katie Leins, Normal Community; Mia Miller, Central; Courtney Wiegand, Normal Community.
SOPHOMORES: Sarah Beth Campos, Centennial; Rebecaa Hanks, Urbana; Allison Hieb, Normal West; Maria Jimenez, Central; Kate Lorenz, Normal West; Sierra Poor, Urbana.
FRESHMEN: Alexis Early, Eisenhower; Dahaila Escobedo, Danville; Kendall Sosa, Normal Community.

Big 12 standings
Normal West    8-0    27-2
Normal Community    7-1    12-0-2
Central    6-2    13-8
Bloomington    5-3    7-11-2
Urbana    4-4    8-11
Centennial    3-5    5-15-2
Danville    2-6    5-15-1
MacArthur    1-7    3-15
Eisenhower    0-8    0-16

N-G Top 10:
Final girls’ soccer

1. Mahomet-Seymour (1)    16-5    Outscored opponents 84-20
2. St. Thomas More (4)    12-10    Highest scoring match, eight goals
3. Champaign Central (2)    13-8    Outscored opponents 58-30
4. Urbana (3)    8-11    Highest scoring match, seven goals
5. Urbana Uni High (6)    8-7-1    Outscored opponents 29-20
6. Centennial (5)    5-15-2    Highest scoring match, 10 goals
7. Danville (7)    5-15-1    Highest scoring match, eight goals
8. Monticello (10)    3-14    Highest scoring match, eight goals    
9. First Baptist (9)    3-2-1    Highest scoring match, eight goals
10. Judah Christian (8)    2-10-1    Both wins by 1-0 scores