The largest group of Thorns Academy players in the program’s history are headed to college soccer teams next fall. 11 members of the 2023 class have signed letters of intent ahead of National Letter of Intent Day on November 9.
“It’s a record-breaking year,” says Tracy Nelson, the Thorns Academy’s director of coaching, adding that the players’ commitment to D1 programs “says a lot about the girls, the talent of the players, and the Academy.”
“We have produced better and better teams and competed on a national level,” says Nelson, noting that three of the Academy’s six teams played in the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL), the country’s top league for female soccer teams, which Nelson calls “phenomenal.”
The players say they were attracted to the colleges and soccer teams for many reasons, and gravitated towards programs where they were welcomed by future teammates, where playing styles meshed, or where they felt a sense of connection and camaraderie among the team.
Nina Rhode, 17, a striker, thinks that connection amongst players helped make the Thorns Academy teams so successful this year. “We were able to complement one another and make ourselves look good on the field,” Rhode says.
“Everyone wants it on this team. We pushed each other to get better,” Michaela McCollum, 17, said, who played as a goalkeeper. She hopes to play the same position at Gonzaga University.
“We’ve been playing together for a long time,” Emelia Warta, 17, who plays in the center and mid-field. She noted that she, McCollum, Rhode, and other players joined the Thorns Academy the summer before starting high school after years of playing for rec soccer.
“We’re close as a team,” Warta continues. “We treat every practice like it’s a game and we get better, push each other.”
Both McCollum and Warta will play for Gonzaga University next fall, and plan to room together. Rhode is headed to the University of Portland and hopes to continue playing as a striker.
All the players expect new challenges and rigorous play at the college but are undaunted. And while McCollum wants to see how she could balance a soccer career with med school and a career as a surgeon, both Rhode and Warta are interested in pursuing in professional soccer careers.
“Soccer’s been a huge part of my life,” Warta says. Even during the worst of COVID-19 pandemic, soccer was there for her. “You can always go out to the field by yourself and practice, whether there’s a pandemic going on or not.”
For a full list of the 2023 Thorns academy college commitments, visit this page.