The Salt Lake Community College women’s soccer team knows how to get your attention.
On the pitch, the Bruins are one of the top junior college programs in the United States. Last spring, they reached the NJCAA national championship game. The fall 2021 season was also a success. The team claimed region and district titles before advancing to the national semifinals.
Now a collection of soccer team members are gleaning a different sort of attention.
Several Bruins are putting their school and athletic pursuits on hold to serve full-time missions. Eight of the players have received mission calls. A ninth plans to answer a call next summer.
That’s just two short of a full soccer lineup.
Coaching a college soccer team is a perpetual exercise in change. Athletes come and go, typically after they exhaust their playing eligibility. But bidding farewell to almost a third of a team’s roster answering Latter-day Saints mission calls is likely a first in women’s college soccer.
Even with all the roster shuffling, SLCC head coach Cassie Ulrich is thrilled for her mission-bound players.
“Their choice to serve a Latter-day Saint Church mission and pause their athletic and academic careers exemplifies their commitment to their faith and beliefs,” Ulrich told the Church News in an email. “These ladies commit to whatever they are doing with so much heart. If they feel called to serve, then I think it’s right that they pursue that.”
Ulrich added she has “no doubt” that each departing player will be great missionaries.
“We spoke consistently throughout the season about trusting the process as a team. I think that directly translates to faith and to trusting the work that they will be doing to bring people to know Christ and the gospel.”
Each of the nine SLCC soccer players/future missionaries shared insights with the Church News on their choices to serve:
Anna Pinegar, a forward from Provo, Utah, is grateful for the support she has received from Ulrich, assistant coaches and her teammates while preparing for her mission.
“I love soccer and the decision to leave is so hard because it’s been a huge part of my life … but I know that it will be so rewarding and worth it. I have a wonderful opportunity to share something that makes me so happy.”
Pinegar will serve in the Texas Dallas West Mission.
Ashlyn Hall, a forward from Clinton, Utah, is excited to be answering President Russell M. Nelson’s call to help gather Israel.
“I realize that soccer is a means to an end, and not the end in itself. I have grown physically, spiritually and mentally because of the experiences I have had on the soccer field. I have learned the importance of having a good work ethic and continuing on despite opposition.”
Hall will serve in the Arizona Gilbert Mission.
Mary Santiago, a midfielder from Heber Valley, Utah, said soccer has taught her several lessons that will serve her well as a missionary — including teamwork, perseverance and focusing on a “higher goal.”
“My whole life has revolved around different seasons — and now is a perfect time for me to step away from soccer and school to serve a mission. Fortunately, I have a supportive coach who values how important this is to me.”
Santiago will join her teammate, Anna Pinegar, in the Texas Dallas West Mission.
Eve Gundersen, a defender from Pleasant Grove, Utah, is grateful for the pre-mission guidance she has received from SLCC coaches and dedicated institute teachers. She knows the Lord will accept her offering of service in the mission field.
“God never asks us to give up something without giving us something even better in return. I can’t wait to serve the people of Romania.”
Gundersen will serve in the Hungary Romania Mission.
Vanessa Glass, a forward from Sandy, Utah, joined her teammates in thanking the Bruin coaches and players for helping her prepare for missionary service. They have pushed her to become “a better version of myself.”
“I decided to leave my education and soccer for a season so I can experience what it is to serve others.”
Glass has been called to the New Jersey Morristown Mission.
Defender Tailyn Bradshaw noted that many associated with the SLCC soccer program were examples of strength during the pandemic and other challenges. “I have seen my teammates’ grit, determination and love for the game that has helped me strive to develop alongside them.”
The Lehi, Utah, native will soon be sharing the gospel as a missionary with new friends in the Argentina Rosario Mission.
“I want to teach them how much God and their Savior can help them to fulfill their divine purpose and destiny as they grow their relationship with Them. This is so much better than anything I could ever achieve in soccer or in my education.”
Katrina Gardner, a goalkeeper from Orem, Utah, said being part of a team has taught her to successfully manage life’s inevitable setbacks and mistakes. She has also learned that success typically follows those putting forth effort.
“I know that these experiences will be beneficial while serving a mission. I don’t think I’m really stepping away from my education. To me, it just feels like I am getting it in a different way.”
Gardner will serve in the Florida Tampa Mission.
Cecilia Norman, a midfielder from Pleasant Grove, Utah, is grateful for the way her team has taught her to spread Christ’s light in simple ways.
“Leaving my education is a small price to pay for all the lives I have the opportunity to change. I can’t think of a better way to press pause on life than to serve a mission. I know the Church is true and I know that Jesus Christ lives and loves all of God’s children.”
Norman has been called to the Indiana Indianapolis Mission.
Abby Carpenter, a midfielder from Riverton, Utah, plans to begin a full-time mission next summer.
“My teammates have helped me substantially with staying motivated to want to go on a mission. It has helped me a lot to ask those leaving sooner than I am about their struggles and about their accomplishments, as well as with regards to spiritual growth.
“I look up to my teammates. They make me want to be a better person everyday.”