Valley's Anna Van Wyngarden had no interest in soccer at first. Now, she's one of Iowa's best

Alyssa Hertel
Des Moines Register

Valley girls soccer senior Anna Van Wyngarden never wanted to play soccer.

She danced at first, but when that ended, her parents insisted she still do something that kept her active. Van Wyngarden’s older sister, Abbey, played soccer. Their parents, Kent and Diane, suggested Anna try soccer. Well, if you ask the younger Van Wyngarden sister, it wasn’t exactly a request.

“My parents forced me to go try out, and I did not want to do it at all,” Van Wyngarden told the Des Moines Register. “But I’m glad they forced me to do that because I love it now.”

That’s right. The girl who never wanted to play soccer has grown to not only love the sport but excel on the field. Van Wyn Garden is one of the best girls soccer players, if not the best, in Iowa.

Tigers head coach Rob Chapman loves to have her on his roster.

And opponents hate playing against her.

MORE: Who will be All-Iowa girls soccer player of the year? Here are 13 candidates

Valley High School soccer star Anna Van Wyngarden kicks a ball before practice in West Des Moines, Monday, May 23, 2022.

How did Van Wyngarden become one of the best girls soccer players in Iowa?

If you ask Van Wyngarden, her success in soccer isn’t something all that special. She tried out for better teams, and she started making those top rosters. Simple.

“I realized that I could actually do something with it,” Van Wyngarden said. “I liked being on the top team and I like playing for the best coaches and surrounding myself in that kind of environment.”

All that, coupled with the competitiveness of playing against the best of the best, was all it took for Van Wyngarden to grow into the player she is today. Or, at least, she makes it seem that easy, because Van Wyngarden isn’t one to pat herself on the back.

More:Here's what happened at the 2022 Iowa girls state soccer quarterfinals

She’ll leave that to her head coach.

“I think she’s pretty naïve on how talented she really is,” Chapman said. “If I’m the opposing coach, she’s a difficult person to deal with.”

So, what exactly makes Van Wyngarden stand out from the rest of Iowa’s talented pool of high school girls soccer players?

Let’s break down her senior season so far.

West Des Moines Valley junior forward Anna Van Wyngarden, left, battles Ankeny junior defender Maddie Foels for the ball during the 2021 state soccer championship.

After helping Valley to the Class 3A state title last season, Van Wyngarden has led the Tigers to a 19-0 record in 2022. Valley will play Ankeny Centennial in the state semifinal on Thursday, a rematch of last year’s semifinal, which the Tigers won, 2-1, to advance to the championship.

Van Wyngarden has 22 goals and 15 assists in 19 starts for Valley, and her 59 total points are over double the next highest-scoring teammate on the Tigers’ roster. But taking a closer look at her stats shows something even more special.

“She has scored just as many goals left-footed as she has right-footed,” Chapman said. “She equally has had passes that have been game-winners with both feet. For her to go either way and break opponents down, it’s something special.”

What do opposing coaches say about Van Wyngarden?

Over a week ago, Des Moines Lincoln stood between Valley and a spot in the substate final — essentially between the Tigers and a chance at another state title.

It was a rainy game day, the first of a season full of weird weather for Iowa high school soccer players. In a winner-take-all match, the players from both teams had to deal with a new set of complications. It was the kind of game where the ball stings a bit more and the turf at Valley Stadium has some spring to it.

But in addition to preparing for the rain, Lincoln head coach Jacquelyn Gielau also had to prep her team to face one of the state’s top players.

“Anna is a great player, but my game plan for her is just like any game plan with anybody else,” said Gielau ahead of last Wednesday’s substate semifinal. “Just be aware of where she’s at at all times. Make sure that when she does get the ball, we’re providing pressure right away.”

Valley's forward/mid-fielder Anna Van Wyngarden (6) kicks the ball as Muscatine's defense Anna Bode (4) attempts to block during the second half in the Class 3A girls' state soccer quarter-final.

Gielau doesn’t really change her game plan for one player, but she does recognize what Van Wyngarden is capable of with the ball. The problem she has as an opposing head coach facing Valley is how much other talent is on the Tigers’ roster.

“I don’t want (my team) to be scared because of just one player,” Gielau said. “Again, Ann is a great player, but she also has a lot of other players that help feed her that I need to be aware of.”

More:What to know about the 2022 Iowa high school state soccer tournaments in Des Moines

In that Valley-Lincoln game, the Tigers advanced with a 7-1 win over the Railsplitters.

Van Wyngarden missed her first shot of the game, a side effect of adapting to playing in the rain. She had a chance later in the first half when Valley already held a two-goal lead. There was a battle for the ball in goal area, and Van Wyndgarden took advantage of the Lincoln goalie stepping out of place and sent a shot down center.

By the end of the night, Van Wyngarden had a game-high two goals and one assist.

A great player but an even better teammate

Other coaches from around the state recognized Van Wyngarden as one of the best players they’ve seen play. Some applauded her soccer IQ and quality of passes; others noted her ability to make her teammates better.

Her teammates recognize they’re sharing a field with someone special.

During a practice at Valley Stadium, one Tigers player accidentally hit Van Wyngarden with a wayward shot. Van Wyngarden laughed it off, but one of her other teammates took the opportunity to say something.

“Don’t take out the No. 1 forward in the state,” junior Zoey Fanter yelled.

Valley High School soccer star Anna Van Wyngarden stands for a photo before practice in West Des Moines, Monday, May 23, 2022.

Van Wyngarden is one of the quieter personalities on the team. She lets her talent do the talking on the soccer field. While her goals and assists are clearly important to Valley’s success, Chapman speaks more to her contributions behind the scenes.

On a hot Saturday before the start of the season, Van Wyngarden was the only senior — and one of three players — to show up and cheer on younger teammates as their coach ran them through a test. She’s quick to help clean up after practices, never leaving the so-called dirty work to the freshmen.

Being a leader off the field was one of Van Wyngarden’s goals this season. She felt it was her responsibility as a team captain to create a positive environment for the whole team. That meant scheduling team bonding activities and team dinners, and she smiles wide thinking about the meal they’ll have together after practice.

No matter how you look at it, Van Wyndgarden has had a hand in fostering Valley’s success on and off the field. That’s just the type of player she is, putting the Tigers before herself.

“She’s always been a team player,” Chapman said. “As long as something is for the greater good and the best for the team, she’ll do it. She’s there cheering on her teammates; she’s just excited for everyone.”

Van Wyngarden wants to help Valley win another state title before heading to Minnesota State

After graduation, Van Wyngarden will go to Minnesota State to play soccer. In a way, she’s ready to be the new kid on the block and learn from older teammates for the first time in a couple years.

But that’s still a long way away.

Because first, Van Wyngarden wants to help Valley to another state championship.

“I want to win again,” Van Wyngarden said. “Winning last year was so cool, just being part of that team. I don’t want to go out on a loss. I want to leave high school with a good memory.”

Win or lose this weekend, Valley’s star senior has turned heads throughout her high school career and made her an easy potential choice for All-Iowa girls soccer player of the year.

And while she’s happy to accept her team’s success, Van Wyngarden is less quick to admit she’s earned a spot in that conversation.

“I think I’m part of the best team in the state. I don’t think I’m the best player," she said, "because there are so many other incredible players that are just as successful as me, if not more.”

Alyssa Hertel is a college sports recruiting reporter for the Des Moines Register. Contact Alyssa at ahertel@dmreg.com or on Twitter @AlyssaHertel.