“With the fourth pick in the 2010 WPS draft, Chicago Red Stars select…Whitney Engen from UNC!”
Hearing those words was the end of Whitney Engen’s month long break and only the start of her WPS career. The former North Carolina defender led the Tar Heels to their 21st NCAA title on Dec. 6, 2009 where she garnered NCAA defensive MVP honors. Two weeks later, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year earned the prestigious Honda Award.
The month between the draft was hectic for the general managers, for the coaches, and the media. For Engen, life was anything but hectic.
"Life since the NCAA tournament has been very peaceful. I got the opportunity to go home and spend some great time with my family and I also was able to let some nagging injuries heal up. I am not in school right now so I am able to focus solely on my training," Engen said of her break.
The break between the collegiate season and the WPS draft was just over a month long. However, those weeks were filled with guessing games and speculation from media and fans alike. The WPS put out a series each week, ranking the top players by position. Engen was the consensus top ranked defender by the seven media experts and was poised to go early in the draft.
With speculation so high, one has to wonder how much the players paid attention to it. Soccer message board members, the WPS Fan Corner and various media outlets were all playing guessing games as to who would go where. Articles were posted in the weeks leading up to the draft, detailing the team’s needs or coach’s comments, making the predictions hard to miss, even for the players.
"I kind of read some of the media leading into the draft," said Engen. "Some of my friends or family members would email me articles that they came across, but other than that I did not concern myself too much with what other people thought."
The selection made, Engen’s focus can now turn to the upcoming season for the Red Stars. Like most players making the jump from college to the professional ranks, she is eager to see what’s in store at the next level. Having been such a high pick, Chicago fans will be looking to see how the newest member of the Red Stars makes the adjustment. Being a top pick usually comes with the pressure of performing well. Usually . But not in Engen’s case.
"You know what, I always have really high expectations of myself, and I think no matter where I went in the draft, I would have expected the same thing out of myself," Engen began. "I expect nothing but the best out of myself, and I’m going to give everything I can for my team and I’m really just going to push myself as hard as I can to make sure that I do everything I can to help this team out."
She will look to help cement a defense that gave up the third most goals across the league last season with 25. Her versatility will also allow head coach Emma Hayes an option in the midfield or up top as well. [Engen played as a midfielder during her club days and was a forward at the University of North Carolina for her first two seasons]. Beyond being a force in the back, Engen hopes to be “a stable player for them that they know they can depend on”.
Her reaction to hearing the magical words, "Chicago Red Stars select, Whitney Engen from UNC?"
"Oh, I was absolutely ecstatic. I mean I was absolutely thrilled to be a top five pick and then to get the opportunity to play for a franchise like Chicago is just a thrill for me. I mean I’ve heard nothing but great things about the team, the city, the coach, I’m just really excited. I think that it’s a wonderful opportunity for me."
Photo courtsey of Laine Schmid