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Olivia Wingate Looks To Continue Her Strong Career in the NWSL

By Tyler Trent

Olivia Wingate poses for a photo after being selected by NC Courage. Photo courtesy of Chanelle Smith-Walker

Most NWSL mock drafts didn’t project Olivia Wingate going in the first round of the 2023 draft. However, the North Carolina Courage clearly had a plan. With the 6th pick of the draft, the North Carolina Courage selected Wingate from the University of Notre Dame. It is clear that the North Carolina Courage is banking on a new path moving forward in the league. It started with the departure of Brazilian legend Debinha. Star rookie forward Diana Ordóñez was traded to the Houston Dash on draft day, and the departure of fan favorites Abby Erceg and Carson Pickett followed shortly after. The selection of Wingate was one of four first-round draft picks made by the Courage, tying the previous NWSL record. This signals the NC Courage is prepared to build on youth.

 Wingate is a Wilmington, Massachusetts, native and local legend. A gifted soccer player but also a skillful hockey player, Wingate was named the Wilmington Town Crier’s Female Athlete of the Decade in 2019. Wingate was involved with the United States Youth National Teams at the U-18 and U-16 levels and committed to the University of Notre Dame as a high school sophomore.

Injury Setbacks

Before her first college season, Wingate was struck with a knee injury that kept her from playing for 15 months. After multiple MRIs, it was finally discovered that a piece of the underside of Wingate’s patella and the cartilage behind it had broken off and made its way to the medial of her knee. The timeline for her recovery was initially given as four months. However, frustration and fear set in as that timeline eventually stretched into 15 months. The recovery period tested Wingate’s resolve, as she wasn’t sure she would ever be able to play soccer again.

With the assistance of her strength and conditioning coach, Wingate could focus on improving everything she could outside of her knee. She focused on things like improving her diet and getting more sleep. Eventually, she felt she was near the strongest she had ever been. Once Wingate was finally cleared to begin training, she played her first game a week later for Notre Dame. In an article she wrote for Stronger Scars, you can read about Wingate’s journey with her knee injury.

Fifteen months out with an injury would be rough for any player, but it was a significant setback for Wingate, a player known for her speed and acceleration. Through her freshman season, she continued to return to her previous speed and regain her technical skills that had gotten rusty during her injury. After two solid seasons at Notre Dame, COVID-19 hit and disrupted the 2020 season. Wingate was able to travel home and used that time to work hard on improving her game.

Wingate commented on her training at home, “I was doing technical ball against the wall almost every day. Just working on my touch, working on 1v1 moves and things like that.”

That time home really propelled her forward in her final two seasons at Notre Dame, which led her to score 24 goals in her college career, including 14 in her final season.

“It just kind of took off, and I felt like I was playing like me again.”

Inspiration As A Player

Growing up, Wingate looked up to many influential women soccer players in the United States, including the legendary Mia Hamm. Some of those women she looked up to were players from her local NWSL team as well, the Boston Breakers. “I looked up to a lot of Boston Breakers players, so Kristine Lilly was on that team. Sydney Leroux was there, so I got to see them in person, which was super awesome,” Wingate said.

Now, Wingate takes the opportunity to learn how to improve her own game while watching top players like USWNT striker Christen Press and Norwegian forward Erling Haaland. “Christen Press is another one that I just really love her and her style of play and attacking mentality.”

As for Haaland, Wingate said, “I look to see how he plays, what runs he’s making, what sorts of finishes he’s doing, and I just love to watch him play. I think he’s a super exciting player right now.”

Wingate celebrates a goal with her team. (Photo courtesy of Notre Dame)

Standout Moment of Her Career

Throughout her Notre Dame career, Wingate had many standout memories, but perhaps her favorite was Notre Dame’s win against the University of Virginia this past season. “It was a long time coming for us. We hadn't beaten Virginia in my five-year span here. We beat them 1-0 at home, and we kind of completely dominated that game. It was just the feeling during the game of everybody was go, go, go. Everybody was on the same page, and it just felt so good to beat them at home.” That win came over Wingate’s new Courage teammate and fellow draftee Haley Hopkins.

When asked if there was anyone she was particularly excited to play with or against in the NWSL, Wingate was most excited to play alongside her new teammates that had previously been her fierce competitors in a strong Atlantic Coast Conference in college soccer. “I know I've played against a lot of girls there. Tess Boade, Emily Gray, and Haley Hopkins, to name a few. A lot of those girls who I'm super excited to finally be on the field with. Over our careers, we've just been bashing each other in our games. I think it'll be fun to be on the same team with them.”

Wingate also mentioned she looked forward to playing with the Courage’s budding Brazilian star Kerolin. “I think she is a really great winger, and I'm really excited to see her firsthand and be able to play with and against somebody as talented as her.”

Biggest Strength?

Wingate was an exciting prospect coming off a very hot season for Notre Dame. I asked her what she considered her biggest strengths heading into the season.

“My biggest strength on the field is for sure my speed. I can put myself into positions that a lot of other players can't. I'm also able to read the defense very well, so I make space for myself. I can make space for other people. My runs, my timing, those are really good as well.”

Wingate earned a reputation for being a hard player to defend due to her ability to play up front and out wide. Wingate is clearly a player who takes the time to learn and watch other professionals learn how to do the little things that others may take for granted.

“I'm just kind of known to be a menace on the back line. They don't know if I'm going over the top if they're dropping really far back, somebody else is underneath somebody's wide open. I know that we utilized that a lot here at Notre Dame, and it was really, really tough for teams to defend against that,” Wingate said of her skills.

Wingate scores a goal. (Photo courtesy of Notre Dame)

Goals for This Season

Making the step up from college to the professional level can be a very difficult transition. I asked Wingate if she had set any goals for herself this upcoming season or if she was taking it as she goes.

“I'm trying to take it as I go, for sure. I love to challenge myself and set very high expectations for myself, but for me, I think it's just going in and being grateful for the opportunity. Not a lot of people get to go and play pro, and I am one of those lucky people that get to go and try to start a career. I think that just going in and being extremely grateful and extremely happy and present in every single moment is my main goal.”

Just because she isn’t setting goals for specific metrics and stats to hit during the season, Wingate assured that she would be challenging and pushing herself to do her best and to help the team in any way possible. “I'm going to a team with so many experienced players in a league with so many experienced players and the best players in the world. I'm just excited to be able to learn and grow and soak everything up from them. So that would be a goal, to learn as much as I can. That's a good one.”

Playing for the USWNT?

With experience as a youth United States National Team player, I asked Wingate if playing for the senior team was one of her goals moving forward in her career. “Of course. I think that's a great goal for me, and I think if I work hard and if I put my mind to it, I do have confidence that I could go that far, but then again, you never know, and I can't say it's like a super achievable dream. It's obviously very, very hard to be at that level, and the girls at that level now are absolutely phenomenal. I think it would take a couple years for sure, but that's definitely an end goal.”

After soccer?

Wingate completed a degree in Science Business at Notre Dame, which helps students pursue healthcare professional education such as medical school, dental school, public health, or healthcare administration. I asked Wingate if she wanted to stay in sports after her playing career was over, either as a coach or in some other capacity.

“I would love to stay in the sports world, and coaching is definitely not out of the question. I did a little bit of coaching over the summer in a training gym. At my gym at home, I interned with them, and I was able to coach some younger groups, which was a lot of fun, and it kind of brought out my love for coaching and helping other people achieve athletic dreams or whatever they're striving to do.”

If coaching isn’t the road she decides to go down, Wingate mentioned going back to school is another option she would consider. “I like the thought of physical therapy and potentially maybe going back to school for that.”

Wingate playing for Notre Dame with her signature double braids. (Photo courtesy of Notre Dame)

Hobbies and Rituals

Wingate’s pregame rituals include eating a rice krispies treat before the match to get a quick carb in. She started doing it her senior year at Notre Dame, and it just stuck with her. She also tries to do a double-braid hairstyle for every game “I do the double braids. I didn't do it my freshman year here because I couldn't find anybody to do it for me, and I was a little too scared to ask. My sophomore year, I started doing it again and always have to have it. It feels so strange if I don't have it and I'm playing.”

Outside of soccer, Wingate enjoys an array of hobbies and interests. As a former hockey player, she is still a massive Boston Bruins fan and of the Boston-based sports teams. Carolina Hurricanes fans don’t have to worry, though. “I'm excited. I'm going to go to a lot of Canes games when I'm out in North Carolina.”

Wingate also enjoys cooking and learning to play music. “I am trying to play the guitar. I got an electric guitar during COVID, and I've been trying to teach myself how to play. I've taught myself how to play piano as well. I used to play in the Chapel at Notre Dame, but just for myself.” Wingate said she liked learning new things and picking up new hobbies. She said she is a perfectionist, so she always wants to be really good at whatever she does. She said, "Sometimes that's not the case, and you just do things for fun. That's kind of how it is with the guitar. I'm not good, but I love to play it, and I love rock music and stuff like that."

Wingate's love for rock music began growing up with her brother and her dad listening to Mötley Crüe and listening to Def Leppard with her mother. “For a long time, 'Kickstart My Heart' and some other stuff by Mötley Crüe were always my go-to pre-game songs.” Wingate also mentioned she enjoyed Greta Van Fleet for a newer band to the rock scene.

NWSL Coverage Will Continue

With preseason training officially underway and an NWSL schedule release looming, the clock is ticking down until we get to see Wingate and the North Carolina Courage in action. Be sure to stick with TopBin90 for further coverage, interviews, and articles about the team throughout the season and to keep up with Wingate's first season as a professional.