The future is bright: M-S grad Sarah Van Wingerden finishes soccer career at Wheaton College

M-S alum wraps up storied soccer career at Wheaton College

Mahomet-Seymour alumnus Sarah Van Wingerden recently finished her collegiate soccer career at Wheaton College, where she collected several awards.

Earlier this month, Van Wingerden was named to the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) Academic All-Conference team, which consists of letter winners who achieve a cumulative grade-point average of 3.30 or higher.

But it was not an easy task.

"Honestly, first semester of freshman year, I was convinced I had made a mistake," Van Wingerden said.

That year, she was trying to balance Army ROTC, being a pre-med major, a soccer player and prioritizing time for family and friends.

It drained her.

But through faith, family and friends, she found support to help push through.

"Halfway through my semester, I really questioned if I was doing the right thing or needed to quit something," she said. "However, I learned that I couldn't depend on myself alone to get everything done in a day. I had to be disciplined and prioritize what I had that day, but if I trusted God to give me the energy and strength to complete it, it would somehow all get done."

When committing to Wheaton, she and her family felt as if God was leading them to Wheaton and making a way financially for Van Wingerden to attend through Army ROTC.

After all, her father, as well as a few other family members, are alums of Wheaton, and she enjoyed the school's Christian community, competitive soccer team and challenging academics.

"I would've never picked the military, but I've found that even if you don't understand in the moment, God's plan is always better than my own," she said.

She attributes her four-year success at Wheaton to her support systems, which include her parents, mentors, friends and faith in Jesus Christ.

"His example of humble servant leadership is something that I strive to emulate every day," Van Wingerden said. "I've failed at things so many times, but those are usually the times I'm doing things for myself. I consider true success when your accomplishments are not individual, but contribute to your team or whatever you are working for.

"All I've really done is choose to work hard and play for something bigger than myself."

In her freshman year at Wheaton, she played center midfield and learned quickly that she had to make collegiate-level play adjustments.

"I didn't expect for there to be such a vast difference in the fitness levels and speed of play in college, so that was very surprising and I had to adjust quickly," she said. "However, I had incredible teammates that chose to serve us new freshmen and make the adjustment as easy as it could be."

In her freshman year, she played in 17 matches, including one as a starter, and she scored two goals in a win over University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

In 2015, her sophomore year, a senior center defensive back tore her ACL in one of the first games, which launched Van Wingerden's defensive career.

"I loved playing defense," Van Wingerden said. "The pressure that is put on defenders for perfection and hard work was a challenge that I loved."

She earned first-team All-CCIW honors and appeared in 23 matches, including 20 starts.

She scored three goals (all on penalty kicks) and registered one assist.

Her junior year, her teammates and coaches voted Van Wingerden as one of three team captains.

She played center mid until she was injured, and when she returned at the end of the season, she played forward.

"I severely sprained my foot my junior year and was not able to play for six to eight weeks," she said. "It was frustrating not being able to play. It is also hard when you don't get to play and participate in everything with your teammates, especially as a team captain.

"However, it taught me how to adapt my leadership style to lead from a different position. I learned to lead from a place of service, support and encouragement rather than leading more vocally and through example."

She appeared in 12 games with seven starts. She scored two goals and had two assists.

In 2017, she returned for her senior year as a captain and played defensive back again.

"We finished my senior year as CCIW conference champions, finally losing to University of Chicago in the NCAA tournament round of 16," she said. "Overall, during my career, Wheaton soccer was CCIW conference champions for three years and competed in the NCAA tournament three times. It was an amazing experie-nce and I wouldn't give the time I had with my incredible teammates and coaching staff for anything."

She was selected for the second team All-Central Region, was a first team All-CCIW honoree and was named CCIW Defensive Player of the Week on Sept. 26.

 

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Van Wingerden is also quick to note how the Mahomet-Seymour soccer program was also a big influence in her preparations on and off the field.

"I think that the opportunity that coach Joey Gruner gave me as a captain gave me insight into future leadership positions I would be placed into," she said. "Since it was the first time I had been put into a big leadership position, I made a lot of mistakes.

"Between head coach Gruner and assistant coach Julie Parr, I not only had great examples of leadership to look up to, but I also had the opportunity to be mentored and have lots of conversations about what humility and service looked like as a leader."

In high school, as with most of Gruner's teams, her teams had chemistry.

"We had such a close-knit group of talented girls on our team," she said. "They pushed me to play harder and held high expectations for each other in order to advance us towards our goals. I loved having that team chemistry and it was something I started to realize would be so important during my collegiate career."

Gruner, who recently retired, reminisced about one of his favorite moments in his coaching career. "In 2014, with 17 minutes remaining in the regional final against Central, the score level at 0-0, Sarah Van Wingerden launched a 35-yard shot into the upper corner of the goal," Gruner said. "This secured a high-level regional win for the team and allowed us to finish the season having defeated every local team in the same season. We have had a target on our backs ever since that season."

While in high school, Van Wingerden was a four-year varsity starter, three-year team captain, three-time News-Gazette All-Area selection, News-Gazette All-Area Player of the Year, two-time team MVP, as well as an Illinois State Scho-lar and a member of the National Honors Society.

The team camaraderie continued into her college career, but the commitment to soccer at the collegiate level was more than she expected at first.

"College soccer is a lot of hard work," she said. "In some ways the sport we played for recreation in high school turned into a full-time job."

Suddenly, life revolved around getting to bed on time, getting homework done and eating the right things to prepare to play at her best.

Whenever the team traveled for games, whether bussing or flying, her coach (Pete Felske) would always say, "This is a business trip, ladies."

"The best part was I got to do this with 28 of my best friends," she said. "I have never worked harder on the field than these last four years."

Van Wingerden was also assistant varsity coach at West Chicago High School this past spring and looks forward to continuing coaching at Illinois Futbol Club (IFC) in Champaign.

She also has been nominated for College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) and NCAA Woman of the Year.

After graduating Wheaton College, a coeducational Christian liberal arts college, Van Wingerden's plans are to attend physician's assistant school.

"I am currently working as an ED technician at Carle Hospital, then I will be applying and hopefully attending P.A. school within the next two years," she said "I eventually hope to have the opportunity to participate in medical missions internationally. I also am second lieutenant in the United States Army Reserves."

She is assigned to the 330th Medical Brigade at Fort Sheridan.

"I am currently assigned to this unit as a Patient Administration Officer," she said. "I have a commitment to serve in the reserves for eight years and absolutely love being able to serve my country alongside many incredible men and women."

Categories (2):Misc., Sports

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