(Editor's note: University of Montana media release)
MISSOULA -- It wasn’t that long ago that Alexa Coyle would look forward to the fall and picture her final season competing for the Montana soccer program, a fifth-year extension brought on by COVID.
One of the top-10 goal producers in program history with one more run as a Grizzly.
Then Montana won the Big Sky Conference Northwest Division title in the spring with a dominant 8-1-0 regular season.
Then the Grizzlies claimed the Big Sky tournament title with a 2-1 overtime win over perennial nemesis Northern Colorado.
Then they dropped a competitive 1-0 decision to South Carolina in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament to cap a memorable, if shortened, season.
Coyle earned first-team all-Big Sky honors and was voted Big Sky all-tournament for the fourth time in four years. She’d twice advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
You might understand how she felt satisfied with how it had all played out, both her senior season and her career, how there was a sense of completion and contentment. There just wasn’t that much more she could accomplish at the collegiate level. So she set her sights higher.
“My plan had always been to return next fall, but after this amazing season we had, I felt really fulfilled with everything I got out of my experience as a Griz,” she said. “I’ve always had the goal of playing professionally. After exploring some options, I decided that’s the route I wanted to go. I’m ready for the next step.”
That next step will be competing for the Hibernian Women’s Football Club of the Scottish Women’s Premier League. The club is based in Edinburgh and plays its home matches at 20,000-seat Easter Road. She signed a one-year contract that runs July 1 through the end of June 2022. Preseason begins in early July, the season in August.
“I know there will be challenges and I’ll be pushed in ways I never have been before, but I’m ready for that,” she said. “I’m confident in myself and believe in myself.
“I’ve heard a lot of great things about the league. I’m so excited for this next opportunity. It’s going to be an amazing experience that I’m ready for.”
Once Coyle decided to look into playing professionally, she signed with a trusted agent, who distributed her video and information. Within two days multiple clubs had reached out.
“I knew I had a lot to offer, but at the same time there are no guarantees. You rely on your film and hope coaches will give you a chance,” she said. “I had a lot of belief but there was also some fear. I was grateful to get some opportunities so quickly. It was a relief to know there would be options.”
The Hibernian Football Club, the men’s team, was established in 1875 and quickly developed a faithful following. The women’s team was added in 1997. The team has three times won the Scottish Women’s Premier League, seven times won the Scottish Women’s Premier League Cup, eight times won the Scottish Women’s Cup. The winner and runner-up of the Scottish Women’s Premier League each season qualify for the UEFA Women’s Champions League.
“From what I’ve heard, they have a really strong fan base. There is a strong following for the club on both sides,” Coyle said. “I want to do as well as I can with this opportunity and see where it takes me. I’d love to see how far I can take this sport.”
Coyle has become accustomed to being surrounded by high-level players who hold high expectations for themselves and their team. Coyle and the Grizzlies advanced to the NCAA Tournament when she was a sophomore and a senior. When she was a freshman, Montana finished second in the regular-season Big Sky standings. When she was a junior, the Grizzlies won the regular-season title with an undefeated record.
Coyle, with 19 career goals and four assists, led Montana in points all four years she was a Grizzly, but it’s always been about more than one player.
“I can’t attest to that enough,” she said. “I wouldn’t be the player I am without my teammates who pushed me every day.
“That’s what’s so special about being a Grizzly. We played for each other and we pushed each other because we wanted to accomplish something together.”
Adds Montana coach Chris Citowicki, who was hired prior to Coyle’s sophomore season: “As much as the program had a say in it, she’s had a big say in it too. This is what she’s wanted.
“She’s earned it. We talk a lot about people taking responsibility for their own success and for everything they do, and Alexa is the type of person who takes responsibility.
“You go to practice, she is there early. She comes in for extra film. She does extra everything. It’s cool to see someone work so hard and get what they’ve dreamed of doing.”
She had a role model in her older brother Brock, who was a linebacker at Montana before a five-year NFL career that began as an undrafted free agent. He spent three seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, two with the San Francisco 49ers.
“I’ve been so grateful to have him. He’s given me amazing advice,” Coyle said. “Believe in yourself and focus every day on how you can get better. Work as hard as you can and control what you can.
“Focus on your work ethic and attitude, and you should be successful.”