No amount of pinching is going to snap Kathryn Williamson out of the dream she’s been living for the last couple of weeks.
Selected by Portland Thorns FC as the eighth overall pick in the 2013 National Women’s Soccer League college draft on Jan. 18, the native Texan still hadn’t come down from the thrill of getting engaged to her boyfriend of six years during a vacation to Belize in the weeks leading up to the draft.
Talk about one of the best months ever.
“We were on our way to a beachside dinner and on our left was the beach and on the right was a lagoon,” explained the two-time All-American defender from the University of Florida. “I saw a really pretty picture that I could take on the lagoon side so we walked up on the dock and as I was snapping pictures, I turned around and he was proposing.”
Williamson and her fiancé, Garrett, stayed together through many years of a long distance relationship as he remained in Texas working toward a business degree while Kathryn starred on the field for the Gators, helping lead the team to a spot in the NCAA Tournament in each of her four seasons in Gainesville.
“It was bound to happen, but I definitely wasn’t expecting it,” Williamson said of the proposal. “I don’t think I had come down yet and then the draft happened. It was awesome. It has been a great few weeks, that’s for sure.”
Since being drafted, Williamson – who graduated in December 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology – returned to Florida to continue training with several of her Gators teammates and their strength and conditioning coach in order to stay fit for the NWSL season. Right now, there’s no timeline for her first journey to the Rose City, but she’s eagerly waiting to join up with the team for training camp once all the particulars are ironed out.
LISTEN: Backcut Podcast talks with Williamson's former University of Florida coach Becky Burleigh
Noted for her technical skill and passing, Williamson started 80 of her 81 appearances in college and collected multiple defensive honors including the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year Award as a sophomore in 2010. Her steady presence in the Gators’ back line also helped earn a call into a Women’s U-23 National Team training camp in January 2011 and despite missing part of her senior season, she helped guide the program to the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA Tournament last year.
“I try to get the job done even if I have to run through a brick wall,” she said. “I try not to let anything get in my way and I try to be a selfless player to do what’s good for the team.”
Add that all together and it’s no wonder Thorns FC head coach Cindy Parlow Cone made the accomplished Williamson the team’s inaugural first round draft choice.
“I love the way Kat plays and I think she will fit in really well with the Thorns FC style,” Parlow Cone said. “She’s very skillful, a great passer and a very tough defender. With such a small roster, it is very important to have versatile players and she can play anywhere in the back line.”
As the youngest of three girls – her two sisters still live and work in Texas – things haven’t always gone so smoothly for the 23-year-old defender. A major source of her competitive drive and support, Williamson’s father Glen passed away when she was just 8 years old.
“He always was an extremely supportive person,” she said, adding that her mother Carolyn was a supportive influence as well. “In sports, he helped me create my mindset. He played a big role in me continuing to play even without his presence there. I know he would be really proud.”
It’s no doubt that the mental strength she developed at a young age has aided her down the line when Williamson faced a lengthy recovery after trying to play through the pain of an injury prior to her freshman season at Florida. She was also forced out of action during her final year with the Gators when she missed nearly the entire season with a knee injury.
“It really tests how much you love something,” said Williamson, who had surgery to repair a partially torn patellar tendon before the start of her freshman year in 2008, then sustained a medial meniscus tear during her senior season in 2012 – returning just in time for the NCAA Tournament. “Sitting out, it was horrible. I’ve never wanted to run so much in my life when you’re sitting out and you’re in a brace and you can’t do anything but watch your teammates go on without you.
“I was able to learn how to be a team player even though I wasn’t on the field. I think it’s an important thing to learn when you’ve been a major component to the team’s success and you’re used to playing 90 minutes. Then all of a sudden you’re in a supporting role and how do you handle that? It was an important lesson to learn. I supported my teammates, I was really proud of them and I think it will help me in the long run.”
Lessons Williamson will surely be able to draw on as she embarks on her first year as a professional with Thorns FC.