(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – Announcing a full recruiting class of nine signings on Wednesday, Montana State University Billings women’s soccer head coach Stephen Cavallo introduced the newest Yellowjackets who will join the team in 2021.
“We are very excited to announce our class of 2021 and believe that these nine individuals will bring so much to our program both on and off the field,” said Cavallo, who is in his fourth season as head coach of the women’s soccer program. “This group is going to do a fantastic job adding to the strong group of players we have returning next fall. This is an extremely resilient group, that has had to battle against all the difficulties that COVID has presented and we are proud that they have chosen to attend our university. We are extremely excited for the future of this class and believe that each year we are getting closer and closer to our ultimate goal of winning a GNAC championship and representing MSUB at the NCAA tournament.”
“It takes a village to bring in a group like this and I want to make sure that our assistant coach, Scott Forster, gets the noted credit deserved for his aid in helping recruit these top-level student-athletes,” said Cavallo. “He did a lot of the leg work in connecting these players into our program. Our graduate assistant Kendyl joined us late in this recruiting class but she, as well as our current student-athletes, deserve a lot of credit for making this group feel valued and welcomed throughout the recruiting process. We are really looking forward to getting this team integrated with our current group and can’t wait for August 2021 pre-season.”
Leila Clark | Midfielder/Defender | Marysville, Washington | Marysville Getchell High School
Clark participated in high school soccer for four seasons while competing for the Northwest United club soccer team. A versatile talent, Clark spent time as both an attacking and defensive midfielder, as well as an outside back during her prep career. She was a two-time honor roll selection, and was her team’s captain.
Coach Cavallo on Clark: “Leila is an incredibly versatile and strong midfield player. She has an incredible work-rate and can play in both the holding and center attacking mid positions. We believe she will take on the physical demands of the GNAC head on and see her as a great addition to our midfield corps.”
Clark on choosing MSUB: “I chose MSUB because I really liked the closeness of the team and the academics. When I visited the campus I felt very welcomed by the coaches and team members, and as if it was a home away from home. I am very excited to become a part of the Yellowjacket family.”
Macie McElhenney | Forward | Great Falls, Montana | Great Falls High School
McElhenney was a four-year letterwinner for the Bison, where she was a talented striker in the lineup. She was an all-conference selection, and among her career highlights were hat tricks against Butte in 2018 and Senior in 2020. In addition to her soccer career, McElhenney was a guard on the Great Falls basketball team for three seasons.
Coach Cavallo on McElhenney: “Macie is one of the best, if not the best, attacking prospect out of the state of Montana. She has a nose for goal and creates havoc against any team she plays against. We believe Macie is versatile and can play as a central forward or as a threat on the wings.”
McElhenney on choosing MSUB: “I chose MSUB because not only am I still close to home, but I have the opportunity to continue my athletic career and further my knowledge in criminology.”
Kendall McGraw | Midfielder | Hockinson, Washington | Hockinson High School
A four-year letterwinner at Hockinson High School, McGraw was one of the Hawks’ leading midfielders under head coach Joe Chicks. She was a first-team all-league and all-region pick, and was named team MVP after captaining the squad. McGraw helped her team reach the Washington Class 2A state finals for the first time in school history, and she was an honor roll selection.
Coach Cavallo on McGraw: “Kendall is a highly skilled soccer player. We are not quite sure what her best position will turn out being because she is so versatile. We look forward to the impact she will make on our current group and believe Kendall has all the tools necessary to make our team better.”
McGraw on choosing MSUB: “I chose MSUB because I love the culture of the team and how close everyone is. I also loved the small-town vibes.”
Liberty Palmer| Forward | Maple Valley, Washington | Tahoma High School
Palmer was a three-year forward for the Bears who proved to be a goal-scoring threat up top. As a freshman she was named varsity MVP, and as a sophomore she received the Kent Reporter athlete of the week honor.
Coach Cavallo on Palmer: “Liberty is a highly skilled and creative winger who loves to take defending players on in 1v1s. She is an extremely hard working individual with an incredible work rate and does a fantastic job tracking back defensively to help in team defending.”
Palmer on choosing MSUB: “I chose MSUB because I felt like it would be the perfect environment for me to thrive in. I’ve always wanted to play soccer at the next level and this was the perfect opportunity. I can’t wait to get a college education while also doing what I love.”
Sophia Pierce | Goalkeeper | Missoula, Montana | Hellgate High School
Pierce was a three-year letterwinner in net under head coach Natalie Hiller-Claridge at Hellgate High School. She earned all-state honors as a junior and was team captain her senior season. Pierce was also a four-time academic all-state selection, and competed in track and field for one season.
A goalkeeper well-versed in stepping up in crucial situations, Pierce stopped a pair of penalty kicks during regular-season games with both saves keeping the score of the game at 0-0.
Coach Cavallo on Pierce: “Sophia is a tall, athletic goalkeeper with a tremendous amount of upside and potential. She is a good shot stopper and strong on coming for crosses. We have been very pleased with her improvement over the last two seasons and look forward to her joining our goalkeeping corps.”
Pierce on choosing MSUB: “I chose MSUB because I love Montana and had no desire to leave, but also because it has a great program and team environment that puts school first.”
Jackie Sharpe | Forward/Midfielder | Apple Valley, California | Apple Valley High School
Sharpe is a three-year letterwinner at Apple Valley High School, playing primarily as a forward and attacking midfielder. So far in three seasons, Sharpe has scored 30 goals and added 20 assists over 47 varsity matches. She won the highest scorer award for the 2019-20 season, was an eight-time player of the game winner, and earned both all-Mojave River League and Best of Preps Soccer High Desert honors in 2020. She helped her team to its first playoff win in 15 years her freshman season, before leading the squad to back-to-back second-round playoff appearances in 2019 and 2020.
In addition to her prep career, Sharpe competed for the Rebels Inland Empire club team in the Southern California Premier League. One of her finishes was nominated for the United States Youth Soccer Goal of the Year in 2019. Academically, Sharpe made her school’s honor roll in all three of her playing seasons.
Coach Cavallo on Sharpe: “Jackie is a very creative and skilled forward. She simply knows how to put the ball in the back of the net. She can score with both feet, from in close or outside the box. We are very excited to have Jackie joining our team and believe she will make a fantastic addition both on and off the field.”
Sharpe on choosing MSUB: “I chose MSUB because I felt appreciated and wanted the second I was in contact with the coaches. I felt like Stephen and Scott were people I could fight for in trying to bring MSUB a conference championship. When I walked onto the campus, I loved everything about it. The campus was beautiful and everyone was really nice. Also I really enjoyed the opportunity to meet the team and that’s when I really knew that MSUB was the right place for me.”
Maddie Smith | Forward | Kent, Washington | Kentridge High School
Smith was a three-year letterwinner as a forward on the Kentridge High School team, playing under head coach Callie Bergstrom. She is a two-time team captain, and is coming off a first-team all-NPSL 4A selection during her junior season. She was also a first-team pick as a sophomore and won the offensive MVP award. Overall she is a four-year starter and two-time academic athletic scholar.
Coach Cavallo on Smith: “Maddie Smith is a hard-working central forward who possesses good technical skills and a fantastic shot. We are excited to see what the future holds for Maddie as we believe she has the work ethic to make an impact.”
Smith on choosing MSUB: “Montana State University Billings provides the welcoming environment, strong sense of campus community, and beautiful backdrop to the college experience I have always dreamed of. Aside from the amazing opportunity to play soccer for MSUB, I am equally excited to engage in the education program, a pathway to achieving my goal of becoming a teacher. During my short visit to campus, through the people I met during my tour and through conversations with the soccer coaching staff, I truly felt like MSUB is a place where I belong. Leaving my family will undoubtedly be tough but I believe MSUB has the potential to feel like home for me. Plus seeing as it is driving distance from my home town in Seattle, I'm certain I will get to see them often in the stands watching me play the sport I love. I am eager to jump into this new adventure, to be tested, to make new friends, and to further refine my goals and aspirations.”
Cassie Southwick | Midfielder/Defender | Alpine, Utah | Real Salt Lake Academy/Western Wyoming Community College
As a freshman in 2019 at Western Wyoming Community College, Southwick scored five goals while adding a pair of assists for a dozen points in 18 games played. She ranked third on the team with 47 shots taken, and converted the lone penalty kick attempt that she took. She was team captain, nominated for all-region, and was an NJCAA all-academic selection.
Southwick was utilized as an outside midfielder and outside back during her prep career, and also competed in cross country. She competed for ODP in 2013 and 2014, and was her club team captain from 2017-19.
Coach Cavallo on Southwick: “Cassie is an athletic, physical defender that will add to our depth across the back line as she can feature both centrally or on the outside. She is a captain of her current junior college team and we believe the leadership qualities she will bring into our program will be immense.”
Southwick on choosing MSUB: “Playing at a four-year school has been one of my biggest dreams ever since I first started playing soccer at age five, and now I am so excited to officially say that I have committed to play at a four-year school. Little five-year-old me would be so proud!”
Hailey Virgen | Midfielder | Richland, Washington | Hanford High School
Virgen was a three-year letterwinner as a midfielder on the Falcons’ soccer team under head coach Paige Fields. Virgen was a Mid-Columbia Conference all-area selection during the 2019-20 season, during which she was also the leading scorer for her club team the 3 Rivers Soccer Club Black ’03. She was selected for the ODP Player ID Camp and captained her club team in 2020 as well.
In 2018 Virgen helped her high school team reach the state tournament, after being selected to the Eastern Washington Elite Player Development Team from 2016-20. She also won three letters on the tennis team at Hanford High School.
Coach Cavallo on Virgen: “Hailey is a versatile player who can play in both the midfield or outside back position. She is skilled on the ball but also possesses a great motor and is not afraid to get stuck in. Despite her quietness off the field, she certainly has a very loud game on it.”
Virgen on choosing MSUB: “I chose MSUB because the atmosphere feels like home and the people here are friendly. I'm excited about the opportunity to pursue my degree in science. In addition, to continue to play soccer in college has been a goal of mine. As a future Yellowjacket, I look forward to playing for a team that is motivated and up to the challenge to be successful.”
"Hailey Virgen is a name that should be known by many. She's a player that will give everything on the field for her team to receive a win at the end of the day. One of the best things about Hailey is her continuing determination to become better in everything she does. She won't let anything hold her back from being the best that she can be. Another word that comes to mind when thinking about Hailey is dedication. Her dedication to her team is something that isn't always present in a lot of players. She has the ability to think about what is best for the team rather than what is best for her, and being a team player is something that is very admirable about her. The competitiveness in Hailey is amazing. Some players now-a-days hold back and don't fully go above and beyond for much. However, when it comes to Hailey, that is a different story. She has the correct balance of competitive and not letting it fully take over herself when out on the field." - Paige Field, former head coach of Hanford High School girls soccer team.
"Hailey has a strong willingness to compete, a deep love for the game, and celebrates her teammates success. Hailey is a great person to be around on and off the field." - Omar Anderson, former head coach for the 3 Rivers Soccer Club - '03 Black Team.