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WWU soccer star went from fringe player to deciding a national championship

Freshman Claire Potter scored game-winning goal in season's final game

Western Washington University sophomore forward Claire Potter sits on the bench at Harrington Field on Monday
Western Washington University sophomore forward Claire Potter sits on the bench at Harrington Field on Monday
By Connor J. Benintendi Sports Editor

Two years before Claire Potter scored the game-winning goal in the 2022 NCAA Division II Women’s Soccer National Championship, she wasn’t sure if she would even be playing college soccer. 

Potter, who in the 83rd minute delivered Western Washington University’s second goal of a 2-1 title game win over West Chester on Dec. 3, 2022, said she was lucky to land with the Vikings. Then, as a freshman, she netted the season’s most crucial score.

“If I didn’t come to Western to play soccer, I wasn’t going to play soccer anywhere else,” Potter said. “It turned out the best way possible.”

Four of Potter’s five goals during the 2022–23 season were game-winners. She finished the season fourth on the team in goals scored, and second among freshmen behind Morgan Manalili, the 2022 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year. 

photo  Players swarm Western Washington University’s Claire Potter on Dec. 3, 2022, following her goal in the 83rd minute of the Vikings’ 2-1 win over West Chester in the NCAA Division II National Championship. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)  

Potter, now a sophomore, was second on the team in shots on goal (32), third in assists (four) and fourth in points (14) while receiving the ninth-most minutes (1,475). Western finished the season 19-2-4 overall (11-1-2 GNAC) while winning the program’s second national championship and first since 2016.

“It was definitely a rollercoaster,” Potter said of her experience last year. “When I came into the season, I did not expect to play nearly as much as I did … I didn’t expect to play at all. I had no expectations. I was just going to show up, work my hardest and play.”

Road to Western

The oldest of four siblings, Potter began playing soccer in second grade. She theorized her parents — both former collegiate soccer players at Seattle University — wanted her to play so that she and her younger brother, Chase, would have something to do together. 

For a time, the pair had a complicated connection through soccer, even though both were destined to follow in their parents’ footsteps.

“[Chase] would always foul me, so I would get mad … For the longest time, we didn’t play together,” Potter said. “Recently we started training together again, which I really like. He’s way better than me; he’s going to play at Gonzaga [University] next year.”

Potter’s club team and prep team at Pasco High School didn’t win many games. During her high school career from 2018–22, the Pasco Bulldogs had a combined 7-48 overall record. Potter started every game she was physically healthy for.

photo  Western Washington University’s Claire Potter signs an autograph for a young girl Sept. 18 after the Vikings’ game with Sonoma State University. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)  

“I loved my teammates. I had so much fun with them. But other teams were just better than us,” she added. “Some of my favorite memories are of those wins.”

Potter was recognized at a club game ahead of her senior season. Her team, the Three Rivers Soccer Club, was playing against a Whatcom FC Rangers team that Western’s assistant coach, Jamie Arthurs, helmed.

Potter played well, she said, and then she began reaching out to Vikings head coach Travis Connell directly. Connell then attended a few of her games.

“Next thing you know I was up here visiting,” Potter said. “I just wanted to play. I decided that my life was going to be more full and more happy if I was still competing and playing with some of my best friends on the field.”

Western announced Potter’s commitment to join the program on April 26, 2022.

‘I was in shock’

photo  Claire Potter high-fives fans after the national championship match on Dec. 3, 2022. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)  

Less than eight months after Potter was officially announced as a member of the 2022–23 Western team, she was the one to seal the Vikings’ national championship victory.

She went from losing 87% of her high school games to, the very next year, winning 76% of her college matches and being crowned a national champion.

“I remember I was in shock,” Potter said of her title-winning goal. “If you had told me, two years ago, I would be scoring the game-winner in a national championship, I would have told you you’re crazy. I didn’t see myself playing in college. I didn’t see myself having incredible opportunities like that.”

But Potter, a team-first player, knows she was far from the team’s lone hero, she said. Nineteen of Western’s 46 goals on the season were game-winners, which left 15 to her teammates. Nine of the team’s 19 wins were decided by one goal, and Western never scored or won by more than three goals in any game.

photo  Western Washington University’s Claire Potter winds up to kick the deciding goal of the national championship on Dec. 3, 2022. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)  

“I wasn’t the leading scorer. I wasn’t the leading assister. I didn’t put up great stats,” Potter said. “In the national championship, it was me. But throughout the season there were just so many players on our team who stepped up when we needed them and scored big goals.”

The team’s main goal wasn’t to win a national title — it was to get another week of practice together as a group, Potter said.

“We just wanted our season to last forever,” Potter said. “We were sad when it was over, still. Like, we just won the national championship, and we’re going home, and we’re like, ‘What are we going to do tomorrow?’”

On to tomorrow

photo  Western Washington University’s Claire Potter takes one of her three shots on goal Sept. 18 during a game against Sonoma State University. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)  

Through nine games in the 2023–24 season, Western is 3-3-3 overall, and 1-1-2 in conference play. Potter, despite being fourth on the team in shots on goal (5), has yet to net a goal. 

The Vikings, which lost seven seniors at the end of last season, have been outscored 8-6, putting them on pace for 12.7 goals this season if they were to only play their 19 regular season matches — a stark drop-off from last season’s 46 goals in 25 matches.

Potter said she knows they have been getting every team’s best since a target has been placed on their backs.

“It’s definitely not been easy. I don’t think you would expect it to be either,” she said. “Everyone knows your team and what you did last year.”

Last season Potter was trying to play off the veteran players and take what the other team gave her. This year, she has become more comfortable in the system and said she has “evolved her playing style” to fit into the new-look team.

“We’ve got to work with what we’ve got now,” Potter said. “But I think it also makes it more exciting. We just won it last year, and there’s even more drive to do it again, even though it’s a really hard thing to do.”

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