Sara Wheaton has started every game for Iowa soccer since she arrived on campus as a freshman in 2018. Now, in her fifth and final season, the center back is looking to finish her career on a high note.
In her fifth year of an accolade-filled Iowa soccer career, Sara Wheaton is looking to finish strong.
Wheaton came to the University of Iowa in 2018 and started every game as a freshman.
Since then, she’s earned Academic All-Big Ten honors three times, was tabbed as Iowa’s 2020-2021 Defensive Player of the Year, and was named to the 2021 All-Big Ten Second Team.
Wheaton has not missed a single game since she arrived in Iowa City.
Now in her fifth and final season in the Black and Gold, Wheaton said she wants to act as a mentor to the younger players on the team, the same way veteran players helped her as a freshman.
Wheaton made the decision to play at Iowa during her senior year at Basha High School in Chandler, Arizona, where she was born and raised. Both of Wheaton’s parents are from the Midwest and she said the family took many trips up from Arizona.
“We would always take vacations out here,” Wheaton said. “And I really just loved the feel and the vibe and the people and just the sense of community here in Iowa.”
Wheaton said her first year as a Hawkeye was a rude awakening in terms of weather, going from the dry heat of Arizona to the frigid winters found in the Midwest. Her freshman year of 2018-19 was that of the polar vortex, in which temperatures dropped below negative 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
Coming in as a freshman, Wheaton said, she was unsure of what her role would be.
“I remember talking to my parents before the season,” Wheaton said. “I was like, ‘I just hope I play, but … I know one thing is I’m going to go in there and I’m going to work as hard as I can.’”
Wheaton went on to start every game of her freshman season, playing nearly the full 90 minutes every contest.
When a player starts to get playing time, Wheaton said, it’s easy to get complacent. But she wasn’t going to let that happen.
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The center back said her drive to keep improving stems from her childhood, growing up as the middle child between two brothers.
“My older brother and I were pretty close in age,” Wheaton said. “And so, there was always competition whenever we were playing — whether it be kickball with the kids in our cul-de-sac, or tee ball, or Wii Sports — literally whatever it is, we are so competitive and we always have been that way and so I think that really helps kind of build that growth mindset.”
The center back said it took time for her to realize she was good enough to start as a freshman, but once she built her confidence up, she began to play at a level worthy of recognition by the team and the Big Ten.
During her first four years at Iowa, Wheaton has racked up a variety of accolades, both academically and athletically. Wheaton, however, said her proudest accomplishment is one of her team as a whole.
“At the end of the day, we do play a team sport and I feel that my work is only worth it if I can help the team in some ways,” Wheaton said. “So winning the Big Ten was definitely the highlight of my career thus far and I think about it every single day.”
This year, despite being a reliable center back for the Hawkeyes, and notching two beautiful assists, Wheaton said she hasn’t had the start she’s wanted.
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“I definitely think that I haven’t been playing bad, but I do just want to get a little bit more out of myself which hopefully will come through,” Wheaton said.
Wheaton, a Psychology major, said after college she plans to find a job back home in Arizona. While she hasn’t ruled out Graduate school, she said she’ll take a year or two before attending if she decides to.
The fifth year said she had considered pursuing a professional soccer career but ultimately decided against it.
“I think I’m going to hang up the cleats after this season. I had a good run, a good career, and I’m really happy with it.”
Wheaton said if there’s one last thing she could accomplish before she graduates, it would be making it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
“I think we can definitely do it and I think we have enough talent,” Wheaton said. “Struggling with injuries and stuff like that definitely could be a little hiccup in the road … but I definitely think that we’re good enough to do so.”