A Running Start
Lynn Williams (’15) dominated on the soccer field for Pepperdine. Now she hopes to do the same for the US national team
Though the rise of Lynn Williams to the US women’s national soccer team has been unconventional, it began in a way that will sound familiar to many families.
A self-declared “crazy kid,” Williams’ parents signed her up for soccer at the age of 5 to allow her to release the energy that is typical of children her age.
Though she played the sport throughout her childhood, it took some time for Williams to get on the national team’s radar. Many prospects for the US Women’s National Team (USWNT) start off in the US Soccer youth system before they get a chance to play on the national under-17, under-18, and under-20 teams. Williams’ hometown of Fresno was not known as a hotbed of soccer talent, and when she started looking at colleges, she found herself being recruited more for track than soccer.
Though it wasn’t her intended path, she followed the sport that was, at the time, presenting her with the most immediate opportunity. While playing in a soccer tournament, Williams was spotted by San Bernardino Valley College and referred to Pepperdine.
After seeing Williams play, Pepperdine women’s soccer head coach Tim Ward and associate head coach Twila Kaufman invited her to visit campus. “I came down and they offered me a scholarship,” Williams says. “I mean, look at Pepperdine. You can’t pass that up.”
She wasted no time in rewarding her coaches’ confidence. Williams scored her first collegiate goal in only her second game as a Wave, a 2-0 win over Arizona. The very next game, at Cal State Fullerton, she hit the tying goal with only 44 seconds remaining in regulation, then scored the game winner in overtime. In what turned out to be a West Coast Conference championship-winning season, Williams started all 20 games.
Though she experienced athletic victories on the field, Williams faced personal struggles at home and felt far from her family during her first time living away. She says she owes much of her success to a particular coach—but not the kind one might think.
“Our athletic chaplain, Maurice Hilliard, was there my freshman year,” she recalls. “He really took me under his wing. I think he touched every person he ever met and made you feel like the most important person in the world when he was talking to you.”
Hilliard passed away in 2012 at the end of her freshman year, but Williams still remembers how he impacted her athletic career.
“At the memorial service, it was just crazy to look around the room and see how many people had the exact same experience. He helped me shape who I was, put me on the right path.”
From there, Williams only continued to impress. She earned first-team All-WCC honors as a sophomore and—despite missing the last four games due to injury—as a junior too.
The USWNT couldn’t help but take notice. She did well at her first U-23 camp but struggled at the next one as the injury lingered. “They told me that I needed to go back, have a great season, and they would see how I did from there.”
Williams gave them exactly what they were looking for, earning all-WCC honors for the third year in a row and named a first-team All-American by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. She earned a spot on the national U-23 team and helped them win a tournament in La Manga, Spain.
“Those were my first two actual soccer games for the US,” she says.
Though Williams has played for the USWNT, she’s not a contracted player yet, so she still has to wait for invitations to camps and hope she gets selected from the player pool. Fortunately, she has a secure gig as a professional player in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).
“In the past there have been other women’s pro leagues that folded. They haven’t succeeded,” she says. “But we’re going into our fifth season. It’s a very stable league and it’s expanding. When it first started out, it had eight teams, and now we have 10. And we just signed our first TV deal. It’s kind of amazing what’s happened.”
Once again, coaches put a lot of faith in Williams—the Western New York Flash took her sixth overall in the 2015 NWSL draft—and once again, she delivered. Last season, she earned both the NWSL’s Golden Boot Award and Most Valuable Player honors, and was named to the NWSL’s all-star team.
The club has since moved south to become the North Carolina Courage, but Williams says she’s up for the new adventure. “I haven’t ever been to North Carolina, so I’m excited to see what it’s like,” she says. “I feel like I’ve traveled the US and seen states that I don’t know if I would ever have been able to see if it weren’t for soccer. It’s always amazing to see where this game has taken me.”