A broken ankle may have sidelined Washington University forward Olivia Lillegraven during her junior year. But it didn’t take her out of the game.
“I had to learn to be there for my team in a way that was very different from the role that I had played before,” said Lillegraven, who graduates this week with a degree in psychology from Arts & Sciences. “I worked hard to be positive and tell my teammates what I was seeing from the outside. It made me realize that no matters what happens, everyone on this team contributes.”
On Friday, the women’s soccer team will face off against against No. 1-ranked Messiah College in the NCAA Division III semifinals in Kansas City. Here, Lillegraven reflects on her favorite moments as a Bear.
Let’s be honest—very few observers predicted the team would make it to the Final Four. Did you?
We hoped for the best. But no, we didn’t expect this, especially after our loss in the tournament last year and losing four very good seniors. But this team is special because everyone works very hard. We have had really talented teams in the past, but this team is good because we work really, really hard on the little things.
You’ve scored some clutch goals in big games. Do you have a favorite memory from the field?
I wouldn’t say any particular goal is my biggest memory. The biggest moment, by far, has been making it to the Final Four. None of us have experienced this yet. Many of us were crying tears of joy at the game.
How did you get into soccer?
My parents just threw me into soccer when I was five. They had probably never watched a game before. I didn’t like to run, so I played goalie for quite a few years. But I wanted to score so I switched to forward. I loved it from the beginning—being on the field, being competitive. It’s also been really exciting to play during this era when the U.S. women’s national team has been so great. All of us are inspired by their success. Nobody’s end goal here is to be a professional player but seeing their passion and thinking about how we can bring that to our own team has been very cool.
So what’s next?
I will be returning to St. Louis for an internship and to study for my MCATs. I would like to be an orthopedic surgeon and work with athletes. I worked in the training room here and in my high school and have always enjoyed sports medicine. Athletes make great patients because they’re motivated to get back. And I will find some way to play soccer.