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WNCC’s Smith, Stratford headed to the next level for soccer

WNCC’s Smith, Stratford headed to the next level for soccer
(Photo courtesy of Mark Rein/WNCC)

The Western Nebraska Community College women’s soccer team will be sending two players onto the next level after sophomores Morgan Smith, of Scottsbluff, and Juliana Stratford, from Utah, recently signed letters to attend four-year colleges.

Smith, who played for Gering and Scottsbluff during her high school days, is headed to Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota. Stratford, who came to WNCC from Sandy, Utah, is headed to Lindenwood University – Belleview in St. Louis, Missouri.

The players said they are excited to continue playing.

“I came in contact with Black Hills State a couple years ago when they first started so that was my go-to plan,” Smith said. “So, when the coach contacted me and asked me if I wanted to go and play, I took the opportunity right away because I always traveled there for club and I was familiar with the area. It will be a great fit for me. It is not huge school, a huge town; it is a very community friendly college.

“It is an awesome opportunity and it will be exciting to go up one level higher from high school to community college to Division II. I get to play with new girls, new coach, and a new program.”

Stratford picked Lindenwood because it is not close to home but also because of the scholarship she got.

“I choose there because I wanted a program that was a great fit for me and it had my program for my education and major,” she said. “The main thing is I wanted to postpone my college debt as much as possible and they are helping me out with that. I was looking at some other schools, some DII schools in Hawaii and some schools back in Utah, but I wanted to stay away from home and get college paid for. So this was the best place for me.”

Stratford said she is excited to continue playing at the next level.

“I think in your four years of college, it is hard to find a purpose or something you belong to,” she said. “WNCC did a lot for me these last two years and I am excited to continue that at this school too.

Smith is excited to be playing at the next level close to home.

“It will be nice that I will be close to home so that when I have games my family and friends can come and watch, and on weekends I can come home,” she said. “I am very family oriented so it will be nice to have them close by and I won’t have to take a flight when I come home.”

Smith and Stratford played the midfield position for the Cougars the last two seasons.

Stratford said coming to WNCC was the right decision and when she leaves, it will be hard.

“What being a Cougar meant to me, I think, was it made me feel I was a part of something and I think that is something a lot of people struggle to find as young adults,” she said. “So, calling me a Cougar made me feel I was part of something, part of a group that had my back and had support and that was nice to have.”

Smith said playing at WNCC for her first two years was a logical choice for many reasons.

“It was an awesome opportunity to play here and I got to play for a coach I grew up watching and I knew what he expected, so that was a plus for me,” the former Bearcat said. “It was nice because I didn’t have to leave home and I still got to eat my mom’s food. It was nice not to leave and also I haven’t had to pay a penny for college so that is definitely a plus for that.”

Smith and Stratford each wore the Cougar uniform for the final time when the squad scrimmaged a Rapid City club team. It was a game where the Cougars were down 3-1 with under 10 minutes to play and the team scored two goals in the final five minutes to get the tie.

Both said taking off that uniform for the final time on Sunday was bittersweet.

“It was bittersweet because I am excited for my next year, but it is also sad because Nebraska is a lot different from what I am used to,” Stratford said. “[Nebraska] is a place that has a soft spot in my heart. It is differently bittersweet and it was nostalgic in a way.”

Smith said taking that uniform off means it is time to put on another uniform and make new friends.

“It was bittersweet [taking that uniform off},” she said. “I loved playing here. I mean our seasons didn’t go to well during my time here, but I learned a lot from the girls, from playing, and from coach Rasnic especially. So, taking the jersey off for the last time was kind of sad but I am ready to move on with new girls and new team and put on a new uniform.”

What Stratford and Smith enjoyed the most was meeting different players from other cities, states, and countries during their two years at WNCC. They said that helped them learn about cultures and grow as a player making leaving in May a difficult one.

“I think that was one of the coolest parts because you got to meet different cultures and different people,” Smith said. “You get to see how different cultures work and how the players play. At a community college, it is great time to see how other levels play and people paly and then you get to combine that into your play. I have grown as a player at WNCC. I think Coach [Todd] Rasnic has helped me figure out the ways to play. He taught me some life lessons as well, which is nice and evolved me as a person. We play soccer all the time, like 24-7, so it is nice to play with different level of girls and to be able to get better.”

Stratford got emotional thinking about leaving WNCC.

“It will be really sad. I guess that is the question that will make me cry,” she said. “I have met a lot of cool people and that is actually why I choose this school because the people are really, really cool.  The past two years I have met awesome people, people that I actually consider sisters on this team. Leaving here will be difficult for me but I am really grateful for the friendships that I have made and the different cultures and religions of people that I have met so much. I think my skills have gotten better and I got better as a player and as a student. I am grateful for that.”

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