MOUNT CARMEL -- When Wabash Valley College head women's soccer coach Patrick Harris was given the nod for his team to join NJCAA Division I Women's Soccer beginning next season, he was overly ecstatic, but also realized the time cram he was in.
Harris had the unenviable task of constructing a team from the bottom up in less than a year, filling a total of (ideally) 21 roster spots. Thankfully, Harris had already hit the ground recruiting prior to the confirmation.
Originally slated to be a club team, Harris had held a soccer camp at the college in the summer of 2018, gauging the interest of those in attendance of joining the club, not knowing at the time if they'd be approved for NJCAA play or not. One of the individuals who were in attendance at the camp, MaKenna Langenhorst.
Langenhorst, who grew up in a small town in Illinois called Germantown, had played soccer for much of her life. Coming from a family of athletes, her mom having played soccer and tennis, her big sister having played soccer at Kaskaskia and her youngest sister playing basketball at Breese Central High School, sports have always been a big part of the Langenhorst family.
Of her influences in her life, she tabbed her mom, Shelly Langenhorst, as her biggest role model, citing their relatability with sports, Shelly Langenhorst attending all of her games and just the overall support her mom provides.
"She's my role model, she helps me out," Langenhorst spoke of her mother. "She makes sure I'm on top of my games, she makes sure I'm working out. . . . It's definitely just her love for soccer too. My mom played tennis in college and got a scholarship to play soccer as well. She has a love for the game, she goes to all of my games and cheers me on. I know that she's just as big about it as I am, I think that's why she has a big influence on me. She just pushes me to become a better person everyday."
Shelly Langenhorst is on a similar wavelength about their mother to daughter relationship, adding that her and MaKenna have a great relationship and are very upfront and open with each other.
"MaKenna and I have a very open relationship, we talk about everything," Shelly Langenhorst spoke of her daughter. "I basically know about everything that's going on with all of her friends because they all kind of hang out here. We just have a really good friendship, parenting type relationship. MaKenna's a very responsible girl and a very hard worker, which has probably gotten her to where she is. . . . She's just a really responsible girl so it makes it easier for me to kind of just sit back and let her do her thing."
MaKenna Langenhorst herself had played basketball and soccer growing up, but gave up basketball prior to the start of her high school career at Breese Central High School.
"I'm passionate," Langenhorst recalled. "I've just loved the game ever since I was little. I knew my heart wasn't in basketball enough."
After a pair of successful years playing at Breese Central and with the Premiere Soccer Club, she was entering her junior year looking to take a leap as a player. Her junior year didn't go as planned, however.
Her Lady Cougar team ultimately finished 5-13 and Langenhorst sustained a concussion toward the end of the season that's symptoms forced her out for the remainder of her junior soccer season, she had been set on giving up soccer after the completion of the season. It wasn't an easy decision for her, though her passion for the sport she loved had run its course (or so she thought at the time).
"I was actually sitting on my couch and was like, I'm done with soccer," Langenhorst recalled. I don't think I'm going to play anymore because I got that concussion."
Around the same time Harris was prospecting recruits on NCSA and CaptainU and came across Langenhorst when looking for players with the potential to make an impact, whether the program was a club team or a verified NJCAA program.
Harris extended an invitation to Langenhorst to attend the camp, but she was hesitant. She had intended on giving up soccer and attending her local college, Kaskaskia, just under a half hour from her house. Shelly Langenhorst, talked her daughter into giving it another try, citing if she didn't enjoy it, she could give it up.
"She found some girls that were doing camps in the summer and she said, well, just for something fun to do. She still loved the sport so I was like, if you love the sport, just go to these camps and see. . . ." Shelly Langenhorst recalled. "I said just go to a couple of these camps and if you don't like it, then don't do it next year, but just do it and see how it goes.
Arriving on campus at Wabash Valley, Langenhorst's first impression was overwhelming. Wabash Valley appeared to be a great fit to her, as Langenhorst was seeking a school small enough, similarly to her alma mater, yet far enough away from home with a family atmosphere and allowing her the opportunity to play collegiate sports.
"Everybody was just so nice there," Langenhorst said. "The lady on my camp tour was so nice to me and was like, I've heard nothing but good things about the teachers. So yeah, I heard nothing but good things and I know that there's a good baseball program, basketball program[s], softball, so I think for sure that we have potential to do something that can be great."
One moment Langenhorst recalled that really stood out, at a lunch during the camp. Harris pulled her aside and echoed what he had been pitching to her, her potential as a student-athlete and the program's desire to have her become a Lady Warrior.
"So at the camp. . . . We had a little lunch break and he pulled me to the side and was like, I want you to come here," Langenhorst recalled. "I wasn't sure yet, I hadn't gotten offered anything, money was a little bit of an issue for me, I have two jobs, my parents expect me to be responsible and pay for my own things, they don't pay for my college."
Fast forward to the completion of the camp, she loved it. Langenhorst built a relationship with the other ladies (some of whom would become her future roommates) in attendance as well as with coach Harris, who sold her on the program.
More so, Harris was impressed with what he saw from Langenhorst. Langenhorst flashed her quickness, coupled with her ability to be a swiss army knife per say. Harris pitched her on using her at a variety of positions, primarly offensively, but as a striker, a wing and a midfielder.
"She has a lot of potential in the sense that I can use her on different places on the field if I needed to, but also when she came for the camp -- which is also probably why I recruited her heavy -- she came for a visit, she was unsure about attending here and then that culmination of things," Harris spoke of Langenhorst. "Her coming to the camp was like, maybe she wants to do it and just needed someone to give her that opportunity."
All that culminated to the moment when the NJCAA Early Signing Period commenced on Nov. 1. Harris awaited for the first recruit to commit, citing he thought it'd be a domino affect once the first young lady inked her intent to become a Lady Warrior. Low and behold, Langenhorst was the one. After the program became an official NJCAA program and sorted out some of the logistics, she inked her NLI on Nov. 2 and a domino affect ensued as predicted.
"Obviously with us having 19 girls now it's going to be a real thing, but without MaKenna, others may have not signed," Harris said. "Like I said earlier, with that camp, some of those girls that went to the camp as well signed. They had been texting back and forth like, if you commit, I'll commit, that sort of thing. It takes one person to do that and MaKenna was kind of the first person I had talked to, brought on campus and that sort of thing."
As the dominoes continued to follow, six future Lady Warriors followed suit to sharpen Langenhorst's impact within the next two months. Some of those ladies included signees Kaylee Thaler, Cassie Riess, Kylee Luce, Chloe Lobmaster, among others.
A rapidly expanding group text commenced as girls continued to commit. Langenhorst has tried to do her part, introducing girls to each other and being a leader in the early stages of the program, when leadership is most needed.
"We have a little group chat," Langenhorst said. "We all just talk all day. . . . With Wabash, I've tried to make sure that everybody is getting to know each other and things like that. I'm big about the team becomes your family."
Even the moms of the ladies who continued to commit to the program created a group text, planning out what their daughters will need come move-in day and such.
With her passion for soccer now renewed, Langenhorst had every intent of playing her senior year at Breese Central. That is until she had strep throat six times in the school year her mom said. After many doctor visits, she was advised to have her tonsils removed. The timing of the procedure was complicated though.
When the procedure had been done, the timing would force Langenhorst to miss the start of tryouts for the spring soccer season and complicate matters for her senior year.
"We had to get her tonsils out and when we had her tonsils out, it was right before tryouts for soccer," Shelly Langenhorst said. "So she missed tryouts and by the time she was going to be able to start playing, she would have only been able to finish the last four or five games of the season."
After considering all options after the procedure, all parties involved mutually agreed it would be in her best interest to sit out the season and begin training for collegiate soccer -- so that's the route she partook -- though she was bummed all the same with missing her senior season.
Since then, she graduated from Breese Central, she's taken on two jobs at restaurants to help pay for her potential expenses in college -- demonstrating the aforementioned work ethic her mom spoke of -- while also training and religiously following the workout packet which Harris sent to the future Lady Warriors.
Harris said Langenhorst has been very receptive to the packet and he's not worried about her having any potential rust with her lengthy absence from organized soccer. He believes she's been training tremendously hard and following the packet accordingly.
"Her tenacity and willingness to work," Harris said. "She had sent me pictures throughout the summer of her doing her summer workouts, which makes me excited that she's actually doing them because I've told every single girl that's come through the office, I'll know if you've down all of it or half of it on day one when they show up for preseason. The fact that she's been eager to not only send me the workouts. . . . has a lot of potential and the fact that she's an eager beaver, [has shown] the willingness to work, is extremely coachable, those are definite things [I like]."
Though the distance from home for the first time ever may produce some level of being homesick, Langenhorst will have a resource at her disposal.
Her older sister coincidentally took a job at the Farm Bureau in Lawrenceville, putting her just 20 minutes away from MaKenna. Shelly Langenhorst was incredibly excited about her two daughters being so close in proximity, citing her ability now to stay at her eldest daughter's house when she travels to spectate MaKenna's games in Mount Carmel.
One matchup on the schedule she'll particularly be looking forward to is with her former local college and her sister's alma mater, Kaskaskia. The Lady Warriors host Kaskaskia on Aug. 28 and travel to face KC on Sept. 28. It'll be incredibly bittersweet with not only her sister having played there, but one of her former high school teammates and friends is headed to Kaskaskia.
"I remember watching KC as a little girl and always wanted to play there," Langenhorst recalled. "but when I visited Wabash I knew that it was the right school for me. My sister playing soccer also puts a little bit of pressure on me. I have another teammate going to KC, and I'm looking forward to playing her. It's definitely going to be weird not being on the field together with our purple jerseys on. I am looking forward to playing KC, and we know whatever happens, we're going to end the game with a smile and improve more and more."
Shelly Langenhorst added she thinks it'd be awesome for Wabash Valley to defeat Kaskaskia, and that Langenhorst's sister will be rooting for MaKenna over her alma mater.
Move-in day for Langenhorst and her teammates is expected to be the weekend of Aug. 3, as they await the completion of the new dorms at Wabash Valley College -- with their first game coming just 19 days later. Langenhorst says she has a countdown on her phone for the day. She feels a mix of nerves and excitement by the impending move.
"It's definitely nerves too for me," Langenhorst said. "I feel like I have high expectations and I put expectations on myself. I hope that I can meet those goals and show coach Harris, make him happy. Definitely yeah, I feel like there's a little bit of pressure on me too with being the first commitment and the first person to sign. It's also an honor though, I'm pretty excited."
As her high school journey concludes and her next chapter at Wabash Valley commences, she may never receive actual recognition for it, but Langenhorst's leap of faith helped the program find its initial footing and give the recruiting boost that Harris needed in building from the ground up. As the first official player in Wabash Valley soccer history, her leap is a debt Harris knows he could never repay, but builds a unique connection between the two for the rest of their lives. As successful as Wabash Valley College sports are, she could be the start of something special in Mount Carmel.
"It's kind of a big deal for me and makes for a special bond between MaKenna and I," Harris said. "I'll never forget that, because as much as I was helping her out, she's helping me out to make a footprint for the program, the campus, the community, because without her commitment, I don't know if we'd even have 19 today. I may have less, I may not even have a team. Her taking that leap of faith. I'm thankful and grateful for her."
**Note: Langenhorst, her teammates and the Wabash Valley College soccer program are seeking for corporate sponsors for the program's first ever inaugural season. They're asking for companies to sponsor a specific player and commit to donate a money total (she cited $10-$15) per goal the student-athlete scores on the season. They would then tally the totals at the end of the season and ask the company to pledge the end result. Any interested sponsors can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
And for anyone interested, the program is also raising money through its online store. Additional information about purchasing from there can be found via the program's Twitter account (@WVCWsoccer) or you can contact coach Harris with additional inquiries.