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Over the past few years, women’s soccer participation has steadily grown in Whatcom County. The game has surged in popularity from youth club soccer levels to the collegiate ranks — and now into the semi-professional level.

Emily Webster, a local player, has witnessed this growth in Whatcom County and Bellingham in various capacities as both a player and a coach. She currently serves as the head girls coach at Sehome High School and as a player-coach with the semi-professional indoor Bellingham United Football Club (BUFC) women’s team.

Webster has played soccer in Whatcom for most of her life, starting with recreational soccer for the Southside Soccer Club, and then with the Whatcom Development League, before joining the well-known Whatcom Football Rangers club from middle school until age 17. She then left to play with a club in Lynnwood.

After high school, Webster enrolled at Western Washington University and joined its soccer program. Webster says she appreciated how much Western’s coaches cared about each of their players as individuals.

Through dedicated players like Webster, WWU has built a top-notch program that competes yearly in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC). Western’s women’s soccer team won the Division II National Championships in 2016 and 2022 and is usually top-ranked yearly. The success of WWU has only helped benefit women’s soccer in the county by providing a program for young players to aspire to and compete at a high level.

The 2022 WWU Women’s Soccer team after winning the NCAA Championship Game. Photo courtesy WWU

Whatcom Community College in Bellingham allows players to participate in women’s soccer in the two-year Northwest Athletic Conference (NWAC). Several of Whatcom’s players have gone on to play soccer at four-year universities after playing at WCC.

Webster has observed participation explode in the county, often witnessing it on weekends at soccer pitches in and around the county.

“I’ll often spend a Saturday at Phillips 66 Soccer Park watching some of my students,” Webster says. I am constantly in awe of how many players are out there playing rec and competitive soccer. I feel like there’s been increased exposure and support for women’s soccer.”

Over the years, Whatcom County has seen more opportunities for girls and women to play the game. WWU Assistant Athletic Director, Athletic Communications Jeff Evans has witnessed the game’s growth from several professional and personal perspectives.

“Since I arrived in my position at WWU in 2015, it’s been fun to see the significant rise in women’s soccer,” he says. “Not only at WWU — with a pair of national championships — but in the community with Bellingham United supporting an indoor and outdoor women’s team and the Whatcom Waves [women’s adult team] also providing more opportunities for women’s soccer players.”

Harrington Field packed for a WWU women’s game. Photo courtesy WWU

As a community member, Evans has also seen first-hand the impact of the Whatcom County Youth Soccer Association in providing a great grassroots program, which his daughter plays in.

“Those beginnings have turned into great opportunities with the Whatcom FC Rangers and North County Alliance FC to show further the talent-rich soccer community we live in,” says Evans.

In addition to club, high school, and college soccer, Webster and other women now have another level at which to play. Bellingham United Football Club, which has long fielded men’s clubs in indoor and outdoor semi-pro leagues, now features two semi-pro women’s options. The Northwest Premier League Indoor saw the BUFC women in the championships, where they finished runner-up. During the outdoor season, the BUFC women play in the Cascadia Premier’s First Division and will play in their second season this April.

“I’ve seen a bolstering of the fanbase within the soccer community. Whatcom County has always loved soccer — playing it, watching it, etc.,” says BUFC Women’s outdoor coach Mary Schroeder. “With the addition of the women’s team to BUFC, we’ve witnessed huge support from the community and many fans at games.”

Women’s soccer in Whatcom County symbolizes perseverance, passion, and progress. With committed individuals propelling it forward, the sport at the women’s level holds a promising future for everyone involved.

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