Story provided by Spring Arbor Athletics
TACOMA, Wash. – A lifelong dream came true for Spring Arbor University's Bethany Balcer (Hudsonville, MI / Unity Christian) after signing a professional contract with Reign FC of the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL), the team announced Saturday.
The former Cougar standout went undrafted in the 2019 NWSL College Draft, but took full advantage of her invitation to the Reign's preseason camp as a non-roster invitee and earned a spot on the club's final roster. Balcer becomes the first player in the history of the NAIA to sign a professional contract in the NWSL, which is largely considered the best women's professional league in the world, sporting players like USWNT standouts Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, as well as international super stars like Brazil's Marta.
"I'm so excited to officially join Reign FC," Balcer said. "Playing professional soccer has always been a dream of mine and I can't thank Vlatko and the entire coaching staff enough for giving me this opportunity and believing in me. I'm excited to continue growing relationships with the amazing women on the team and to continue to develop as a soccer player on the most elite team in the league."
Reign FC, based out of Tacoma, Washington, played five preseason matches from Mar. 16 through Apr. 5. Balcer appeared in four contests, including two starts. She scored two goals in the team's preseason finale against the University of Washington and was credited with an assist.
With Spring Arbor, Balcer shattered every offensive record possible over her four years. The prolific attacker finished her career with 129 goals, which over doubled the previous record of 64, and finds her fifth all-time on the NAIA career goals list. She led the Cougars to four straight NAIA national semifinal appearances, which included two national titles in 2015 and 2017, as well as a national runner-up finish in 2016.
Balcer was the first-ever freshman to receive NAIA National Player of the Year accolades, and would go on to receive the award three times, which was also an NAIA first.
"We are so proud of the faith, work rate and commitment to excellence that Bethany has shown through this process," said Spring Arbor head women's soccer coach Jason Crist. "She's an excellent soccer player and has earned a spot amongst the top players in the world. In my conversation with Reign head coach, Vlatko Andonovski, it became clear that their coaching staff recognized Bethany's potential and prowess as a player, but also easily identified her quality as an overall person. Bethany is found in Christ and is an amazing human being. She is destined for great things and we are so proud that she's a Cougar."
A Hudsonville, Michigan native, Balcer is no stranger to the Seattle area after spending last summer playing for the Seattle Sounders Women of the Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL), which is on the second level of women's soccer in the United States soccer pyramid, below the NWSL.
In the summer of 2017, Balcer played for Grand Rapids FC of United Women's Soccer (UWS), where she led the club to a league championship. In eight matches, she scored a league-best 14 goals while also adding three assists for a league-leading 31 points.
"I'm at a loss for words right now," added Balcer. "What an incredible journey God has led me on that has brought me to this moment. I'm so excited to begin my professional soccer career and develop as a player with Reign FC. I'm incredibly thankful for SAU and the foundation it has given me both spiritually and athletically to put me in a position to make this possible. The coaches and players here are top class and I can't wait to fully dive in with them. I'm so excited to start this new adventure!"
Reign FC kicks off its 2019 season on the road on Sunday, Apr. 14 visiting the Houston Dash. The game is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. CST from BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas.
The National Women's Soccer League is a nine-team Division-I women's professional soccer league featuring national team players from around the world.
The clubs are the Chicago Red Stars, Houston Dash, North Carolina Courage, Orlando Pride, Portland Thorns FC, Reign FC, Sky Blue FC, Utah Royals FC and Washington Spirit. Based in Chicago, the NWSL is supported by the Canadian Soccer Association and the United States Soccer Federation.