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Get inspired by the trailblazers in women’s soccer

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A star-studded panel featured some of the first USWNT players — many raised in Washington state.

David Inman/WA Legends

In August, in front of a sold-out crowd, Washington State Legends of Soccer hosted a panel discussion titled “From Washington to World Cup” at The NINETY. Moderated by Lesle Gallimore, the event featured some of the trailblazers in women’s soccer — many who hailed from Washington state.

The star-studded event featured Gallimore, who just retired after coaching the University of Washington women’s team for 26 years; longtime U.W. assistant coach and U.S. Deaf Women’s Soccer Team Coach Amy Griffin; University of North Carolina women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance, who also coached the USWNT from 1986-1994; Jan Smisek, who became the first women to receive a USSF C License in 1975; Kerri Hunt, a Seattle native who was a select player before that was really a thing for women and went on to coach at Bellevue College; Kathy Ridgewell, a forward who made USWNT appearances in the 1980s when the team was just forming; Sandi Yotz (Gordan), a defender who made seven appearances for the USWNT right when it formed in the 1980s; Shannon Cirovski (Higgins), former U.S. soccer midfielder who earned 51 caps with the U.S. played in the 1991 World Cup, which the U.S. won, and is a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame; and Gina Segadelli (Casella), a USWNT forward who joined the Seattle Sounders as an assistant coach in 1994, becoming the first woman to coach a men’s professional soccer team in the U.S.

If you weren’t one of the fortunate attendees, thanks to the magic of modern technology, you can watch the whole conversation on YouTube.

You can sense a strong passion for the game from all these women, and the conversation featured plenty of laughs, surprising stories, and inspiring moments. It is well worth the watch to better get to know some of the most significant trailblazers in the women’s game.

A few of the interesting tidbits from the conversation:

  • Gallimore noted that while this is her last season with the University of Washington, she still feels like she has at least a decade left with the game — either the women’s or men’s game. She is ready to leave the collegiate experience, as she felt like she had a home with the Huskies and can’t replicate that. More Gallimore in soccer is a very good thing.
  • Washington was a hot bed of women’s soccer in the 1980s. Kathy and Sandi were two of seven Washington state soccer players to make the first U.S. Women’s National Team. Kathy gave a shout-out to Booth Gardner, former Washington state governor who was a soccer fan and played a big role in growing the game here, including as a coach.
  • All these legends gave a huge nod to Mike Ryan, coach of the 1985 USWNT for its first international games in Italy in August 1985. Ryan was from the region and invested in women’s soccer at an early time, providing real technical coaching and development to these players. He finished his longtime career as a coach at Nathan Hale High School.
  • Sandi was asked what it was like to be one of the first women of color to play on such a large stage. “Today, when I look at the national team, it’s so diversified. I went to watch them play in France and it is just really good to see how it has developed for everybody. Soccer is a game for everybody,” Sandi shared.
  • Gallimore heralded Sigi Schmid for bringing soccer to Southern California. “They made sure everyone could play,” Gallimore said about the Schmid family. That included women and girls in the region. “When he came to coach the Sounders, nobody was more ecstatic than me.”
  • In 1982, when Gallimore was a freshman in college, there were only 17 Division 1 women’s soccer teams in the country. There are now 331 teams. Shannon, Gina and Amy all talked about their journey to playing in college in the 1980s — noting that very few colleges at the time gave scholarships to play soccer.
  • Shannon played with one turf shoe and one regular soccer cleat during the 1991 World Cup, as she was dealing with a stress fracture on her fifth metatarsal at the time. LEGEND.
  • Dorrance shared that he has been “at war” with U.S. Soccer since the 1980s. The first issue came when the GOAT, the legend, one of the greatest players of all time — Michelle Akers — collapsed in a match going up for a header. U.S. Soccer then pressured Dorrance to cut her from the national team. He didn’t. (For those who don’t know, Akers played soccer and won two World Cup titles despite having chronic fatigue syndrome.)
  • Dorrance also shared that Gardner committed $100,000 of his own money to start a women’s pro league, but U.S. Soccer scheduled national team games during the first four weeks of the league’s season — essentially putting it out of business.
  • Dorrance praised Megan Rapinoe for changing the landscape of women’s soccer. “It gives them a platform to develop an extraordinary confidence,” Dorrance said about the importance of soccer in molding players like Rapinoe to become leaders.

It’s easy to call this current generation of women’s soccer professionals trailblazers. They are smashing records and growing the game at an unprecedented level. But none of their success would have been possible without the true trailblazers that sat on this panel, the ones who paved the way for today’s stars to shine.