The first-ever draft for the North Carolina Courage and general manager Curt Johnson was an eventful one, as the Courage made four selections in the National Women’s Soccer League Draft in Los Angeles on Thursday evening.
Fresh off an NWSL championship last season as the Western New York Flash, it didn’t take long for the Courage to bolster its talent, taking Brigham Young University forward Ashley Hatch with the No. 2 pick.
After missing time due to injury her junior year, Hatch hastily cemented herself amongst the NCAA’s elite as a junior, scoring a hat trick in a 3-2 win over No. 5 Penn State in the third game of the season en route to a 19-goal, six-assist season.
The Courage used the No. 7 pick to select Darian Jenkins, a striker out of the University of California-Los Angeles.
Jenkins’ senior season was cut short due to a broken fibula. At the time of her injury, she was leading the PAC 12 in goals (seven), points (17) and game-winning goals (five) per SB Nation’s Bruins Nation blog. Jenkins finished her collegiate career with 29 goals.
Jenkins has more national team experience than any of the Courage’s draft picks, having competed or trained with the U-20s, U-18s and U-17s.
“I’m so happy that North Carolina had faith in me,” Jenkins said in a team release.
Jenkins is the sixth UCLA alumna on the Courage roster.
When the Courage acquisition was announced five days ago, Johnson said shoring up the back line would be addressed in the draft or via trade.
The squad’s defensive needs were addressed with a trade as North Carolina flipped the No. 18 pick to Portland for No. 20 and No. 27.
Some fans were surprised when the team didn’t select Christina Gibbons, an alumna of Cardinal Gibbons High School and Duke, with the No. 2 pick (Gibbons went fifth to FC Kansas City), but the Courage was still able to nab a local product and defensive stalwart with the selection of Claire Wagner.
“It’s crazy, honestly. When I was watching the draft yesterday, it was going through my head that there wasn’t a North Carolina team until about a week ago,” Wagner said. “To hear my name was unbelievable. I was sitting there with my mouth open. It’s so exiting.
“We went to so many (Carolina Courage) games when I was little and playing for CASL. We always went as a team and we were even ball girls sometimes and it’s crazy that now it’s coming full circle.”
Wagner competed in the Capital Area Soccer League and is a Panther Creek High School alumna. She scored four goals for Clemson last season and has represented the United States at the national level, competing in the U-17 FIFA World Cup in 2012.
Draft notes: Duke’s Toni Payne was selected No. 13, joining Gibbons, her college teammate for four years, on FC Kansas City. Alexis Shaffer, who played at Green Hope High School in Cary and notched 69 points as an upperclassman at Virginia, also joined FC Kansas City. Cameron Castleberry, a standout at Ravenscroft School in Raleigh and at North Carolina, was taken with the No. 36 pick by the Washington Spirit.