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Good Fortune

Drawing from a large local pool of talent, Fortuna Tulsa has assembled the area’s first elite-level women’s soccer team with a mix of current and post-college amateur athletes.

Article
John Tranchina
Posted
May 28, 2018

With such a thriving youth soccer scene for girls in Tulsa, where so many go on to play elite-level high school and then college competition, it was only a matter of time before the city landed a big-time women’s soccer team.

Fortuna Tulsa has joined the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL), a league that includes both professional and amateur players, and they already played their first game May 25 against Oklahoma City FC, on their new home field, the Hurricane Soccer and Track Complex at the University of Tulsa (512 S. Delaware Ave.).

The team is owned by Tulsans Dave Hibbard and Barry Williams, and the men in charge of the on-field product also have local ties. General manager Wayne Farmer and head coach Michael Wilson both played with the Tulsa Athletic of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), and each was eager to add to the city’s rich soccer culture. Wilson’s two assistant coaches, Donivan Bradshaw and Michael Moritz, each also coach local high-level youth club teams.

“The Tulsa soccer community, it’s incredible,” says Farmer, who also played two seasons at TU. “[With] the amount of kids playing soccer nowadays, I think soccer is the No. 1 youth participating sport in the city. The reception has been truly fantastic so far.”

“The owners made a big impression on me on the investment they wanted to make in the women’s game,” adds Wilson, who also coaches the Union High School boys’ squad. “The fact that they wanted to make something that gave not just to females in the sport but to the community as well is a massive piece that was important.”

The team’s initial roster is a veritable who’s who of recent local high school stars who are now playing for top Division I NCAA programs. (Photo: Marc Rains)
The team’s initial roster is a veritable who’s who of recent local high school stars who are now playing for top Division I NCAA programs. (Photo: Marc Rains)

The WPSL is one tier below the all-professional National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), which includes many U.S. National team players. The WPSL is also the largest women’s soccer league in the world, with over 100 teams. Tulsa will compete in the Southwest Conference of the Central Region with five other teams: FC Dallas, FC Wichita, Little Rock Rangers, Texas Spurs FC and Oklahoma City FC.

The league is an intriguing mix of professional teams and amateur teams, with the amateur squads, like Fortuna Tulsa, utilizing college players (as well as a few recently graduated). Teams can’t have some paid players and some amateur, because then those amateurs would lose their NCAA eligibility; it must be one or the other.

“You can structure your team professionally where you can pay players, or you can go with the model that we’re using, where you’ll use college players,” Farmer explains. “We’ll have a lot of players who have graduated college or are current college players who we’ll not be paying. I think FC Dallas, who’s in our conference, they’ve gone the professional model and their team has been fantastic. But we feel with the players we have, there are so many great girls who have come through youth soccer in Tulsa, and now currently, they’re playing college. It’s really exciting that we can bring all these girls back to Tulsa and put them on one field to go out and represent the city.”

Underscoring that point, the team’s initial roster is a veritable who’s who of recent local high school stars who are now playing for top Division I NCAA programs.

Taylor Malham and Parker Goins, who helped Union High School to three straight Class 6A state championships, play for the University of Arkansas and have competed internationally on the U.S. Under-17 and U18 teams, respectively, will both be on the squad. They will be joined by several other former Union teammates like Paige Hobart (University of Oklahoma), sisters Rachel (Oklahoma State) and Haley VanFossen (Arkansas) and Anna Beffer (Oklahoma State).

Other local stars making up the roster of 30 players include Nayeli Perez (Jenks HS, Arkansas), Tatum Wagner (Bixby, Kansas State), Jordan Langebartels (Summit Christian, Oral Roberts) and goalkeeper Hannah Warner (Owasso, Oklahoma State).

While the team is open to sign players from anywhere, there was an emphasis on ensuring Tulsa retained a local flavor.

“If I can get every player to be local and that gives us the talent we need to be successful, then that’s what will happen,” Wilson says. “We want to have local players and to show Tulsa, ‘Hey look, we’re really good at being who we are. We don’t need to go out and try and bring in big names from elsewhere; we’ve got the talent here.’ And when I say Tulsa, I also mean the surrounding areas — Owasso, Bixby, Glenpool, the whole surrounding area. It’s important that we can showcase that talent.”

As for the team name, it comes from Roman mythology.

“When developing the new logo and name, it was important for us to create something memorable, unique, and something that portrayed Tulsa in both a positive and enthusiastic light,” says co-owner Hibbard, also the team president. “Fortuna was known as the Goddess of Fortune and the personification of luck, so essentially, Fortuna Tulsa means Good Luck Tulsa.”

Tickets are just $5 for each of the six home games played at the University of Tulsa. For the full schedule, check out Page 47 of this issue.

“It’s a really good size for the amount of audience we want to get in there, right around that 2,000-3,000 mark,” Farmer says of the TU field. “And it’s so easy to get to from everywhere in town. We’re really excited about what we can do on game day. Obviously, they have the splash pad and play park next door, and we’re going to do some live music, a little gathering before the game. We also teamed up with some local businesses that we can do some stuff after games, as far as team meals, team socials, that type of thing.”