MISSOULA — Montana sports fans remember Lani Walker starring on the basketball court during her high school career.
But Walker's true love has always been soccer, and Walker recently made her commitment to continue her career past high school.
Walker told MTN Sports that she has committed to play Division I soccer for Eastern Washington after she graduates from high school. Born and raised in Missoula, Walker and her family moved to Spokane, Washington, this past summer, and Walker is currently a senior at West Valley High School. The Eagles compete in the Big Sky Conference for women's soccer, same as Montana.
"Soccer has always been my passion since I was born and growing up I always loved soccer," Walker said. "I like basketball too but soccer has always been my go-to and my happy place and I couldn't have done it without my amazing coaches, my family and all of my teammates that I've played with and against. I can't thank them enough for getting me to where I am today."
Walker was a standout soccer and basketball player at Missoula Loyola Sacred Heart, and as a sophomore was one of the team leaders as Loyola put together an undefeated season and was the co-state champions with Forsyth in 2020 when the tournament was cut short due to COVID-19.
Walker said she has played soccer since she was 5 years old, and she verbally committed to EWU in July and she will be announced as having signed on Wednesday during National Signing Day. Walker said she also drew some interest for soccer from Air Force, Boise State and Portland among other schools but received an offer from EWU in November of 2020.
"Eastern Washington has always been high on my radar," Walker said. "They provide some of the best education but also at the same time they are stellar at soccer and every single other sport. They were always top-dog on my list and the coaches that just came in I really loved. (Missoula native) Brittany Delridge went to Eastern Washington so I just stayed in contact with her and how she was doing and she said her atmosphere was so amazing and I wanted to be part of that.
"It's only 25 minutes away from my house and I wanted to stay pretty close so it seemed like a good fit and I can't wait to get started."
She played club soccer with the Missoula Strikers and FC Missoula growing up in Montana, but once she got to high school, Walker began playing club soccer with the Eastern Washington Surf.
Walker and West Valley advanced to the Washington 2A soccer playoffs and the quarterfinal round as one of the final eight teams left standing this past fall.
"Coming into West Valley, I knew a couple of girls already and I got in contact with the coach early this past summer and went to all of their open scrimmages," Walker said. "My high school experience was one of my best moments and memories this year. I couldn't ask for a better senior year for high school soccer.
"They were all so welcoming and super friendly and willing to get to know me and it was just very fun to be with these girls for my last season."
College athletics runs deep in Walker's family. Her father, Travis, who was Loyola's athletic director and boys and girls basketball coach in 2020-21, played football for the Montana Grizzlies while her mother, Catie (McElmurry) Walker played for the Lady Griz. Her mom's side of the family is the McElmurry's who also have a long line of athletes who have competed at the Division I level in a variety of athletics.
And for Walker, realizing her dream to play college soccer is beginning to set in.
"Both my time in Missoula and Spokane has just been an absolute blast," Walker said. "Just to continue to play the sport that I absolutely love and I dreamed of playing in college for so many years is finally becoming a reality and I can't thank my coaches, my family and my friends and everyone else for getting me to the point I'm at today."