PHILADELPHIA, PA/WILMINGTON – Olivia Wingate has found a new home. And it's one for the history books.

On Thursday night on National Television, Wingate — who just two weeks ago was named the Town Crier's Female Athlete of the Year for the second time and was previously named the Female Athlete of the Decade in 2019 – was selected in the first round, sixth overall, by the North Carolina Courage during the annual National Women's Soccer League draft held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

She becomes the first female from Wilmington to play professional soccer in the United States. Back in 2010, Kat Strazzere played one year in Finland, which came after playing four years at UMass Lowell. When Wingate appears in her first game for the Courage, she'll become what's believed to be the third athlete from Wilmington to play at the professional level joining Mike Esposito (football) and Jason Bere (baseball), while, Jeanne Ashworth (ice skating) and Megan Donnelly (field hockey) were in the Olympics.

“(That) means a lot to me. I really hope that a lot of young girls and young athletes from towns like Wilmington are able to see that if you have dreams and if you have the dedication and the resilience, you can go wherever you want to go. I hope that really resonates with them and I hope that gives them some confidence going forward in their careers,” she said.

The NWSL was established in 2012 as the successor to the Women's Professional Soccer (2007-2012), which had been the successor for the Women's United Soccer Association (2001-2003).

The Courage became a team in the NWSL in 2017 and advanced to the league championship that season, losing, before coming away with two titles in 2018 and '19. This past year the team finished 9-8-5 overall, which was good for seventh place out of the 12-team league.

With some earlier off-season trades, the Courage had three first round picks and decided to choose Wingate sixth overall, followed by defensive midfielder Sidney Collins (California) and midfielder Clara Robbins (Florida State).

Wingate thought perhaps she would be a late first round pick, but had a good feeling going in that North Carolina would be her new home to play soccer.

“I tried to stay away from all of that pre-ranking stuff and just tried to go off what coaches were telling me and the calls that I had with any of the teams,” she said. “I had a very good feeling and I had got really good vibes from all of the coaches who I talked to. I felt pretty confident that I was going to be selected. North Carolina specifically, I knew that they had three picks in the first round and one in the third, so I figured that I had a good probability going in one of those three (first round) picks because they had expressed that they really liked me. I was just really hopeful at that point and just grateful to get selected at any point and overall.”

Wingate and her family, including parents Steven and Carol, brother Steven and her sisters, Annie and Ella, both former WHS athletes themselves, all flew in Thursday afternoon for the event. From there, Wingate said she got royal treatment.

“The whole event was just really phenomenal. When you came in, they had all of the draftees, they had a red carpet that you walked down and you got all of these photos taken and you did some little interviews and then afterwards of being selected, you had to do an interview for the team up on the stage and I was very nervous for that one,” she said. “Offstage even (more nervous) because I was so worked up. I was still literally shaking. They had like two or three more questions to ask me and I had to settle myself down at that point.”

She needed to settle her emotions down because she never thought she would be selected sixth overall, so she really caught off-guard when the league commissioner called her name.

“I genuinely did not expect my name to be called at that number. I knew that they had interest and really liked me, it just felt surreal,” she said. “It didn't feel like it was real. So when they called my name, I got up and I was in a bit of shock. They had picks nine and eleven as well, so I figured maybe there and didn't expect to go in their first pick. I got up and went to start going (to the stage) and I was like 'oh wait, my parents are here' so I turned around, got to hug them and I went up to the stage. I was pretty shaky going up there. It was super nerve-racking, but it was just an incredible experience.”

Just a short while ago, Wingate wrapped up a phenomenal five-year career at Notre Dame. Her coach Nate Norman told the Town Crier that she would indeed be selected and he believes she has what it takes to be success in the league for years to come. She will get a first taste of that went camp begins later next month and the season most likely starting up at the end of April (schedule hasn't been released yet).

“We've obviously been out (to Cary, North Carolina) a lot being with Notre Dame, so it's a familiar place and (Wake Med Soccer) stadium is phenomenal. The fans there are unbelievable, especially with Courage Country,” she said. “I'm really excited to be able to go to an environment like that. The team I know they are very much attacking oriented, they want to play with the ball and they want to be in control and go after you. That's something that I also love to do so I'm just excited to be able to be a part of something like that as well. It's such a strong organization and I'm just happy to grow and learn from all of these experienced players and get started.”

Wingate will be joining other strikers on the team, including Riki Madson, Kerdin Nicoli, Rylee Baisden and Brittany Ratcliffe.

“I don't know them at all, but I know that they are phenomenal athletes and I'm looking forward being able to learn and grow from them, and just get some experience under my belt,” said Wingate.

Wingate's soccer resume is pretty impressive and extensive. She was a member of the US National Under 16 and 18 teams, playing in various tournaments around the world and scoring a number of big goals in those contests. She committed to ND during her sophomore year at WHS, and shortly after that, she elected to stop playing club soccer, and joined the Wilmington High team. Despite missing some time coming back from an injury as a junior, and missing half of the game as a senior because she was part of the US team, she was named the two-time Middlesex League Player of the Year and during her senior year was named the Division 2 Eastern Mass and State's Player of the Year, the Sun's POY and was also named to the All New England team.

From there she went to ND on a full athletic scholarship. She appeared in 95 games, making 74 starts, while scoring 26 goals, including 14 this past season with the Fighting Irish. She also had 11 assists for her career, totaling 63 points. She earned third team All-ACC and All-Region in 2021 before her breakout 2022 season that earned first team All-ACC and United Soccer Coaches third team All-America status.

She is already planning to move to North Carolina later next week.

“They told me that it gets really hot there during the summer but there's no snow and I like the sound of that,” she said with a laugh. “When I was in Indiana, the summers were blazing hot and then you also get the horrible winters, so I'm excited to have just one tail of that.”

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