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Homegrown player Olivia Van der Jagt feels lucky to play for OL Reign

The rookie midfielder is having a standout season with OL Reign, and she’s just getting started.

NWSL: Washington Spirit at OL Reign Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

Four years ago, at just 18 years old, Olivia Van der Jagt was facing off against OL Reign veterans like Jess Fishlock and Lu Barnes at Husky Soccer Stadium. A Kent, Washington, native, Van der Jagt was wrapping up her freshman year at the University of Washington and playing in the Huskies’ spring season, which included a match against OL Reign during the NWSL club’s preseason.

Fast forward to today, and Van der Jagt is yet again battling with Fishlock and Barnes — although this time in a much different setting: at training every day as a rookie suiting up for her hometown club. The opportunity to play alongside the veterans she watched in high school is something Van der Jagt doesn’t take for granted.

“I tell all my teammates, ‘You know, when you guys were at Memorial Stadium, it was so easy to go to the games.’ In college, we would all go, our coaches would all get us tickets and we’d go and watch the Reign games. And even growing up before I was at UW, I would go, too. It is just so cool getting to play with people that I used to watch.”

Van der Jagt’s soccer journey — from the bumpy grass fields in Kent to the future World Cup stage at Lumen Field — began at the age of 4. She was always chasing her brother, who is five years older, which initially led her to both soccer and volleyball.

After a few years of rec she joined Dos FC, which eventually merged with PacNW. Later, in high school, she chose Eastside FC in Issaquah while also playing at Kentridge. She helped lead Eastside FC Red to two Washington State Championships and was named to the 2016 NSCAA All-America Team.

At that time, however, she was equally passionate about volleyball. In addition to her brother playing the sport, her dad, Gerard, had also played volleyball — including for the Suriname National Team. Her parents actually met while playing volleyball, and Van der Jagt played both club soccer and club volleyball until her sophomore year in high school. The travel became too intense, and she had to choose.

”At the end of the day, it was either soccer or volleyball. I don’t know if she knows this, her dad and I between us would say, I hope she chooses volleyball because we love volleyball,” her mom, Andrea, said in a King 5 profile on then-high school student Olivia.

Her parents gave Van der Jagt the freedom to choose, though, and she chose soccer. Around that time, she also had to start thinking about college, with recruiting starting early in high school for some of the most talented players in the country. While she definitely gave other colleges a look, UW rose to the top pretty quickly.

“I’ve always been a Husky fan because my dad went to UW, but I also didn’t want to just be only UW. So I did look at other places in the Pac-12, too. I looked at Oregon and USC and I visited Pepperdine and Cal Poly just to see what was out there and see what other campuses were like. So I definitely saw what was out there, but at the end of the day, I love UW and I love Washington and being close to family, and I loved the big school campus feel. So it was definitely a perfect fit.”

Path to OL Reign

Van der Jagt had a standout career at UW and credits her time there for preparing for the professional game. “I loved playing in the Pac-12 because it’s a super competitive conference. No game was easy. You never knew what was going to happen.”

At UW, Van der Jagt was a ball-winning specialist. As NCAA soccer analyst Chris Henderson notes on Twitter, she won 65% of her defensive challenges, 71% of aerial duels, and 75% of her tackles. She also scored 12 goals and added nine assists over her UW career. In the spring season of 2021, Van der Jagt was named a member of the All-Pac-12 Third Team.

After electing to stay at UW for a fifth year — an option granted to college players during the pandemic — Van der Jagt had ambitions to play professionally. She even had some semi-pro experience, having played with Sounders Women for a few years while in college. That includes the Sounders Women’s national championship team in 2018, where the UW midfielder featured alongside Bethany Balcer before either player became a pro.

However, as she inched closer to 2022, Van der Jagt wasn’t sure where she’d end up. The NWSL had instituted some strange rules for the 2022 college draft. In the previous year, due to pandemic uncertainty, the league made all seniors automatically eligible for the draft without requiring them to register. A lot of players, including Olo, decided to play a fifth season and were not selected in that 2021 draft. Unfortunately, the NWSL was not going to allow players like Van der Jagt to register for the 2022 draft because they weren’t selected the prior year. She began to look elsewhere.

“I was originally just thinking of maybe going overseas, as I didn’t really know what was going to happen with the draft and especially with COVID and the drafts being so weird.”

Fortunately, the league changed that rule two or three weeks before the draft — allowing her to enter. From there, she decided to “see what happens and then go from there.”

Olo’s initial college coach, local legend and longtime UW coach Lesle Gallimore, called a few NWSL coaches to share what she thought made Van der Jagt a promising NWSL talent. That included OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey, who was interested but couldn’t make any promises about selecting the UW grad.

On draft day, Van der Jagt had to wait until the third round to hear her name called, and to her joyous surprise, it was the hometown club she followed in high school that selected her.

“It was honestly kind of a shock when it happened. I was very surprised. I didn’t know, you know, because you don’t know what round and when, and so I obviously was really surprised, but I was so happy. And especially it being Reign, the fact that I would get to stay home was just an extra bonus and just so cool.”

Van der Jagt became the third-ever Husky selected in the NWSL Draft.

Rookie year at OL Reign

A lot of rookies spend their first year in the NWSL getting used to the speed of play, earning limited minutes in the process. It’s a big step up from college, and it can take some time for players to feel comfortable in this new, tougher environment. Van der Jagt, however, has featured in nine of the Reign’s 10 league matches and has the 9th most minutes for the club.

“I definitely did not expect to be playing this much. I honestly did not really know what to expect this season. I feel like I came in with, you know, ‘This is your first year. Obviously, rookie season can be hard. Whatever happens, just go in and try and learn as much as you can and get better. Do whatever you can to help the team.’”

In Seattle, Van der Jagt has continued to be a solid ball-winning midfielder — an impressive feat for a rookie in such a fast-paced league. The pace of the NWSL is one that Eugénie Le Sommer said felt like a Champions League match every game. Still, Van der Jagt has won 58% of her duels and 52% of her aerial duels 10 games into the season.

“My view of Olo is that she is just solid in all aspects of the game, truly. She’s two-footed, extremely technically proficient, outstanding in the air both offensively and defensively,” Gallimore told Ride of the Valkyries about the player she coached for three years before retiring from UW. “She’s consistently physically fit enough to be a box-to-box midfielder, she reads the game very well, and also is a quick study and eager to learn and improve.”

Gallimore is certainly being proven right so far. Not only has Van der Jagt provided a consistent threat in the midfield, she added an assist and goal during the NWSL Challenge Cup. After the Reign let Angel City level the score toward the end of the match, Van der Jagt scored in the final seconds of stoppage time — giving the Reign a 2-1 win at home.

“I knew it was the end of the game and we had to just put everything forward — and I love making runs into the box and trying to get in and make an impact. Right when Lu [Barnes] hit that ball, which was the most perfect ball, I was like, ‘Just try and get something on it.’”

Van der Jagt admits she didn’t really know if she scored because she spun backward on the play. But seeing the ball in the back of the net “was definitely the coolest moment that I’ve had in my soccer career.”

While she’s still only halfway through her rookie year, Van der Jagt is already so grateful to end up not just playing in front of friends and families, but playing for such a special, welcoming club.

“It’s definitely been more than I could ask for of a rookie season. Coming in, I didn’t really know what to expect, and I was very nervous. Everyone was so accepting and very inclusive, and just the culture that we have on the team is something that I feel is so very special. It’s been such an amazing experience.”

The rookie midfielder also credits head coach Laura Harvey for growing her game in such a short period of time.

“I feel like I’ve learned so many new things and it’s just been amazing to be coached by her. She’s just so personable and great too — a great coach and a great person, which is amazing on both sides. I’m just so glad that she’s my coach because it’s definitely made the pro experience that much better.”

The feeling is mutual for Harvey, who has continuously praised Van der Jagt for how much she’s contributed already in her rookie season.

“She deserved an opportunity to be part of our roster. We’re really glad that we are able to keep her local in Seattle and being able to sign a homegrown kid — it’s a huge thing for our club. We’re really proud of her and really excited for her future,” Harvey said when the club signed the midfielder to a one-year contract earlier this season.

Van der Jagt has only continued to earn more minutes since then. In particular, Harvey gave a big shoutout to Olo and her partner Quinn in the midfield for shutting down Taylor Kornieck in the Reign’s 1-0 win against San Diego in late May.

“I think Quinn and Olo were really big today. Really, really, big. And we needed them to be with the way that San Diego threats.”

L for Locals

Van der Jagt is part of a trio of players who grew up in the region, along with Sam Hiatt and Nikki Stanton. You might catch the three local players doing a unique celebration during matches — an “L for Locals” hand gesture on their foreheads.

The idea came from Stanton, as the three players are often running together to the restroom after warm-ups during training days. One day, during one of those jogs, Stanton just said, “L for Locals. That’s going to be our thing.” It stuck, although the three continue to be a little worried that opponents might think they’re calling them losers.

Getting to play in Seattle is one thing, but getting to play at Lumen Field has been even more special for Van der Jagt.

“It’s definitely a very surreal feeling. I remember the first game we played there against Portland. I didn’t even go in that game, but still just being there, watching my team, just being in that environment, I was like, ‘This is the most surreal thing.’ I literally grew up going to Sounders games and watching them play. And now being down here, it was just the craziest thing.”

The Portland-Seattle rivalry

OL Reign’s next match at Lumen Field is a big one: a game against their rivals, the Portland Thorns, who sit just one point above them in the league table. The rookie, who is full of grit on the pitch, has already shown that she’s built for rivalry matches.

Van der Jagt had a chance to start in the Reign’s first regular-season match against the Thorns, a scoreless road draw that had plenty of action. The rookie shined. She finished with 26 successful passes, one shot, and one chance created on the offensive end. Defensively, she had one blocked shot, one clearance, two interceptions, and seven recoveries, and she won all five of her ground duels.

“Now that I’ve been in the game and played in the game, now I understand the rivalry. It’s just fighting until the end, just very aggressive. I always knew about the Portland-Seattle rivalry, but now actually being in it, it was kind of a wake-up call. This is very intense. We have to win this game. We cannot lose the rivalry, it’s just an all-in fighting mentality.”

Van der Jagt got a glimpse of the rivalry in OL Reign’s preseason, coming on for the final minutes. The Reign faced Portland in their first preseason match, and it was a heated battle that felt nothing like a preseason game.

“I remember watching Veronica [Latsko] and [Natalia] Kuikka going at it. Kuikka — she also played on Sounders Women — and I was talking to her after the game and I was like, ‘Wow, I really thought you guys were gonna kill each other out there. You guys were going so hard and so aggressive.’”

Van der Jagt will likely feature in Sunday’s rivalry match, as the Reign will be without eight players who are still on international duty. Portland will be in the same situation, but that doesn’t mean the rivalry will be any less intense. The rookie midfielder and her teammates kick off at Lumen Field at 3 PM PT on Sunday, and Olo is bound to have her own fan section yet again as she continues to shine in her hometown.

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