Cary, NC – The big unveiling of Cary’s professional women’s soccer team came only a few days before the National Women’s Soccer League’s (NWSL) draft. And with that draft, Panther Creek graduate and Cary local Claire Wagner joined her new home town team.
New Team, New Player
Claire Wagner played as a defender for Clemson’s soccer team and among her accomplishments there was named team co-captain and MVP in 2015. During the NWSL’s draft on Thursday, January 12, 2017, Wagner was the North Carolina Courage’s 20th pick.
Wagner said she had been paying attention to the news of the team, ever since the big announcement that North Carolina FC owner Steve Malik had bought the Western New York Flash and rebranded the team the North Carolina Courage.
“I was excited for the Cary and Raleigh family. There’s always been a big youth support base with CASL and I think the crowds will come out for the games,” Wagner said.
But when Wagner learned a few days later that she would be playing for this new home team, she said it was unexpected.
“I was in shock and it was so exciting,” Wagner said. “I know I have to earn my spot and work on my own to make my way onto the field.”
The North Carolina Courage’s name is a throw-back to the Triangle’s previous professional women’s soccer team, the Carolina Courage. Wagner said she had fond memories of the team.
“When I was younger, I played for CASL and I remember going to Carolina Courage games with my teammates. I was even a ball girl sometimes,” Wagner said. “I was a little girl watching these heroes play and now I can inspire those same little girls watching me.”
Soccer in the Triangle
As Wagner said, the North Carolina Courage will likely have a big audience base to pull from with youth soccer and a history of well known players coming from the area such as Mia Hamm and Tobin Heath. She attributed the popularity of the sport locally to organizations that work to train players.
“I think CASL and Next Level Academy have grown so much over the years,” she said. “Not just in size but in how they develop players and who they bring in to help train and coach.”
Wager in particular said she owed most of her success to Next Level Academy. She also said there is a work ethic in the area that is unique.
“I played with teammates for more than 10 years and it’s unheard of for a training club to stick together for that long,” she said. “So to have been drafted after all that hard work is very rewarding.”
The new season for the National Women’s Soccer League starts in April, with the North Carolina Courage playing home games at WakeMed Soccer Park.
Story by Michael Papich. Photos courtesy of North Carolina Courage and Clemson University.