Mallory Eubanks, the former Tates Creek soccer star who went on to an outstanding college career at Mississippi State, will have a chance to play professionally for the NWSL’s Washington Spirit after being selected 16th overall in the league’s draft on Thursday.
“I’m super proud of her and super excited for her to start the next journey,” Shawn Eubanks, Mallory’s father, said in a phone interview from the NWSL Draft site in Philadelphia. “I told her this morning, we used to travel to Cincinnati and Ohio for all these tournaments, 6 a.m. in the morning, all the weekends and all of that — today was kind of seeing it through to the finish.”
In an interview on the NWSL’s livestream of the draft, Eubanks relished the idea of getting to play alongside some of her heroes.
“It’s just a dream come true to be able to play professionally,” she said. “Growing up, watching all these players and these teams and (now) being able to go out there and be on a team with some of these players is just awesome.”
Her father thinks Washington will be a good fit for his daughter. The Spirit features U.S. Women’s National Team sensation Mallory Pugh and also had the No. 1 overall pick Thursday, which it used to select Stanford’s Andi Sullivan.
“It felt like getting recruited in college. This was kind of that next step. That same feeling,” Shawn Eubanks said. “Waiting for somebody to see you, and waiting for somebody to offer you.”
After her selection, NWSL analysts described Eubanks alternatively as a “dark horse” and a “steal” as she made her way to the Philadelphia Convention Center stage.
“I think she’s a big win for Washington. They’re getting loaded right now,” said Aly Wagner, NWSL commentator and a two-time Olympic gold medalist with the U.S. Women’s National Team. “She’s someone to keep an eye on in this league, because I think she can absolutely make a roster and make an impact.”
Eubanks, born in Greenville, Miss., split her childhood between Lexington and Geneva, Switzerland, because of her father’s work for Lexmark. Her mother is Miriam.
She returned to Lexington for her final two years of high school at Tates Creek for then-head coach Bo Lankster, where she helped lead the Commodores to back-to-back state finals, winning the championship her junior year in 2012 and earning Miss Kentucky Soccer honors in 2013.
She also made her mark on the club circuit for Lexington FC, playing for Coach Brad Turpin (Woodford County High School) and being part of five state club titles in six years, according to Mississippi State’s website.
At Mississippi State, Eubanks earned SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year and second-team All-SEC honors as a midfielder her senior year as the Bulldogs recorded their best record (9-5-4) since the 2001 season. Eubanks ranks in Mississippi State’s all-time top 10 in a number of categories, including second in assists (17), fourth in assists per game (0.24) and shots attempted (134) and eighth in points scored (33).
She has been called up to age-level U.S. Women’s National Teams, playing for the U19 team in 2016 and the U20 and U23 teams last year.
Her versatility might be her greatest asset and could help her earn a spot on the Spirit roster.
“I like to play forward. I like to play midfield. And occasionally I’ve gotten to the outside back position and I like all three,” she said. “Changing up is fun. I’m excited that I can have an opportunity anywhere on the field.”
Eubanks is the third player with Kentucky ties to be drafted in the NWSL. Arin Gilliland, a Kentucky and West Jessamine standout, was the eighth overall selection by the Chicago Red Stars in 2015. Gilliland continues to play professionally for Chicago and for the Newcastle Jets in Australia’s W-League.
Another player with Kentucky ties, former UK midfielder Courtney Raetzman, was the 32nd overall pick, also by the Red Stars, in the 2016 NWSL Draft. Raetzman, a native of Elk Grove, Ill., went on to earn a roster spot that season and was awarded a new contract, but was cut ahead of the 2017 season.