Notre Dame women's soccer graduate forward Olivia Wingate didn't always think of a professional soccer career as a legitimate possibility.
“I think it was always a dream of mine since I was a little kid, but I think I finally began to realize that it could be fulfilled probably around my junior or senior year of college. That was when I really started to think about it as a real option,” Wingate said.
After playing for five years at Notre Dame, Wingate, this year’s Observer Female Athlete of the Year, was selected with the sixth overall pick by the North Carolina Courage in the 2023 National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) Draft.
Wingate started playing soccer when she was four years old. Growing up in the New England area, she would watch the Boston Breakers with her travel team.
“I used to be able to go out and see players like Sydney Leroux and Kristine Lilly and those players were really special to me. I was very, very excited to have them play right in front of me. Christen Press, too. I really like her style of play and I try to mimic her a little bit,” she said.
Choosing to play college soccer at Notre Dame was an easy decision. The historic program with three national championships representing a University with renowned academics was a no-brainer, she said. When she stepped foot into Notre Dame's facilities, Wingate knew her choice.
Since joining the team, one of the biggest lessons she learned was finding her voice.
“As a player and a teammate, in my beginning years, I was a little bit more reserved maybe, I didn't say much, I kind of just did whatever I was I was told to do. I think that throughout my years there I was able to really become more of a voice, more of a role model for younger teammates and really stepped into that role of being communicative and being able to facilitate more on the field,” Wingate said.
And she was able to do a lot on the field. In her first three years, she scored four goals, including one during her sophomore year to tie No. 9 Duke in double-overtime. As a senior in 2021, Wingate started all 22 games. She notched seven goals (third-most on the team) with a shot accuracy of 0.640 — the highest rate in the ACC and third-highest in the country. During the team’s NCAA tournament run, she scored a game-winner in the second round against Purdue before tallying another goal in the third round against Arkansas.
In her last year with the team, Wingate enjoyed her best season yet. She earned Third Team All-American, All-ACC First Team and ACC All-Academic Team honors. Wingate scored 14 goals, which was the third most in the ACC and 10th most in the country. Of particular note was her first career hat trick against Wisconsin, which came during one of her four games in which she scored multiple goals. She went on to score three postseason goals as she helped lead the Irish to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament.
She again paced the conference in shot accuracy, with a 0.607 rate in 2022, the second-highest in the ACC and 25th best in the country. She also led the ACC and was fifth in the country in shots on goal per game with 2.4.
Such amazing seasons made it difficult for Wingate to choose just one favorite memory from playing soccer with the Irish.
“I'd say one of the best memories was beating Florida State at home 4-0 last season. I feel like with Florida State we'd lose every time and unfortunately it's the same thing with UNC and those those big powerhouse schools, but I think that we really turned into one of those powerhouse schools this last year and we were able to kind of do what they've done in the past to us back at them and that felt really great,” she said. “Especially my last year, being able to do that on our home field in front of our home crowd with some of my best friends, it was unbelievable.”
Wingate was proud of all the team accomplished during her final season and what the team will continue to do in the future.
“This past season was just the cherry on top of my career at Notre Dame. It all came together for us and we had such great team culture, great team chemistry. Whereas last year we were on the up and up and years prior we were struggling here and there, I think that last year it really came together and we were able to just play as one and get great wins. [In the Elite Eight], we put up a great game. It is definitely heartbreaking even to think about it now, but I honestly think if we would have won that game we could have gone for the national championship. I'm just very grateful to have had that experience and hopefully that that year is going to help grow the program and continue to push it forward. That's all we can ask for is to make the program better,” she said.
Being drafted by the North Carolina Courage was a nerve-wracking experience for Wingate. Not knowing what was going to happen and whether a team would contact her was stressful. But having her family, teammates and coaches there with her made it easier, she said.
She scored her first professional goal in Mexico on the team’s preseason trip. Since beginning her professional career, she's focused on taking everything one day at a time.
“You can't get too high and you can't get too low,” Wingate said. “It's going to be a roller coaster. You're going to struggle and I've definitely had my fair share of struggles, but I've had some great moments here as well and it's just being able to be as consistent as you can be and that requires a lot of mental toughness, being able to move on to the next play, move on to the next touch, move on to the next game.”