SAN DIEGO – In the late 1990s, Helena Capital graduate Katrina (Miller) Walter transitioned from collegiate soccer to rugby. Nearly two decades later, Walter is being inducted into the Women’s Football Hall of Fame’s inaugural class on Friday evening in Las Vegas.
But how did a collegiate soccer player turned rugby player find herself playing professional football? First of all, Walter relished the physical nature of the sport. Second, her competitive juices continued to flow once the days of college athletics were finished
“I’m mean. I like to hit people, I like to knock them over,” Walter said. “I like to finish. I want them to know that they lost when they get back up.
“So many athletes, they get out of college and they’re done. You’re looking for a way to do team sports, but competitive team sports aren’t really an option. … I wasn’t good enough to start on a (Division III) soccer team as a goalkeeper, so I didn’t start off as this naturally gifted athlete. I just fell in to this thing that happened to work for me. I worked hard and had a great support system around me that made it possible, outstanding coaches, good teammates to get us in to position to win championships, but mostly I just got lucky.”
From 2002-2007, Walter played in the Women’s Professional Football League (WPFL) while it was still in its infancy. The league began in 2000. Following her time in the WPFL, Walter began playing in the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA). Players in the sport were still learning the intricacies of the game, meaning Walter rarely saw a more experienced player lined up across from her.
Primarily a left tackle, Walter played 10 seasons between the two leagues, garnering seven all-America selections and winning two national championships, one with the SoCal Scorpions in 2007 and one with the San Diego Surge in 2012. Walter led her team in pancake block percentage for seven consecutive seasons. A pancake block is a block that puts a defender on its back.
“I think probably the biggest game is the championship in 2012,” Walter said. “It was played at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, which was just awesome. We got to an early lead, gave it up and were down, came back in the fourth with a punt-return touchdown. Then they were driving on us and we got a pick with less than a minute to go to win the game. You’re just on top of the world. You’ve just won it all, and you’ve won it all in exciting fashion. That is, without a doubt, the best day of my life. Getting married? No. That day is by far the best day of my life.
“That journey really started the year before. We had a good season in 2011. We had gone all the way to the championship game and lost to Boston. We’d gone into that game pretty confident … We thought we were going to stomp on them, and we got our butts kicked. … You just want it more, because as great as it was to win in 2012, it hurt that bad to lose in 2011.”
Walter also represented the United States as a member of the women’s football national team. In the 2013 World Championships in Finland, Walter and Team USA dominated their three opponents by a score of 236-8, including beating Germany 108-8. According to Walter, the surprise was that Germany scored eight points, not that Team USA had scored more than 100.
That game against Germany stands out as another special moment for Walter. They played Germany on July 4th, and because the Germany and USA uniforms were too similar in color, Walter and her teammates wore their plain white practice jerseys with only one name on the jersey – USA.
“The only name we had on our jerseys on the 4th of July was USA,” Walter said. “Still to this day when I stand for the national anthem, what I picture is standing there, all in our white, crappy practice jerseys. One of my teammates played and sang the national anthem. I see this every time. I tear up every time I hear it, because it’s this incredible experience being out there representing your country in a USA uniform with the national anthem playing, it just gives you chills. It’s a whole other sense of patriotism.”
Joining Walter in Friday evening’s induction are 35 other members of professional women’s football, some of which played with Walter on the two national championship teams, as well as the national team in 2013. As a member of the inaugural class, Walter wanted to leave a lasting impact on the sport of women’s football of how she played the game.
“I want to be known as, I don’t make mental mistakes and I play until the echo of the whistle,” Walter said. “I want to be known as a smart, nasty player that played right until the very end of the whistle.”