It’s about as obvious as the sun is bright just how much Illinois State senior Kate Del Fava lives and breathes soccer. She’ll take a deep-dive describing certain formations. She’ll adamantly defend her fandom of Liverpool FC.
And she’ll start glowing when talking about U.S. stars such as Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd, citing championship runs from the women’s national team as great moments of joy.
Less than a year after crowding around a TV set to watch the U.S. strike gold at last summer’s World Cup, she’ll be suiting up with several members and playing against others in arguably the top women’s professional soccer league in the world.
On January 16, the Utah Royals FC selected the former Redbirds star in the second round of the National Women’s Soccer League College Draft with the 12th-overall pick. Del Fava became just the second Redbird ever drafted, joining Rachel Tejada, who was drafted in 2015. Del Fava is now the Missouri Valley Conference’s highest draft pick.
“It’s unreal,” Del Fava said. “Every girl has that dream, and I have just been so, so blessed that I had the pathway that I have had here at Illinois State. To be able to be in this position, it’s just amazing.”
— Illinois State Soccer (@Redbird_Soccer) January 16, 2020
As a child, Del Fava fantasized about playing the game at the highest level. She also knew how small the chances were of her making that a reality. So she hit the books just as hard as the back of the net.
The Kenosha, Wisconsin, native chose Illinois State because she had a chance to play Division I soccer at a school with a pre-veterinary medicine program. As someone who loves animals just as much as scoring, Del Fava was all set on going to veterinary school after her spring graduation. She would likely have her choice of schools, too.
Del Fava is a 4.0 student who was recently the first person in Illinois State history to be named the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Academic All-America Team Member of the Year. She’s also a Bone Scholar, the highest undergraduate honor at the University.
“Kate has been a tremendous ambassador for our program,” Illinois State coach Brad Silvey said. “She is, right now, the epitome of Redbird soccer in terms of character, personality, work rate, time, commitment, passion, leadership. She’s obviously extremely academically driven. She’s been a rock star for our program, for sure.”
This fall, her play on the field put a little wrinkle in her postgraduation plans. Playing with more freedom in midfield, Del Fava upped her goal total from five her junior year to 17 as a senior. She was 10th in the entire NCAA in regular-season goals. She was named the Missouri Valley Conference offensive player of the week five times en route to being named conference player of the year.
The NWSL draft wasn’t really on Del Fava’s radar when her season ended. She didn’t even how the process worked. Nevertheless, her coaches encouraged her to at least consider playing professionally somewhere.
After Thanksgiving break, she put her name in the draft pool. Since she entered the portal fairly late in the process, the video production team in Redbird Athletics quickly put together some highlight packages to send off to teams.
She played several midfield positions throughout her Illinois State career and also showed her versatility as a center back during her sophomore year. Silvey thought her ability to play a variety of spots would be attractive to pro teams.
“Kind of a jack-of-all-trades,” he said. “She’s just very well put together and very well-rounded from a soccer standpoint, which leaves a lot of options open to a coach, in my opinion.”
Del Fava was aware that Silvey spoke with the Royals in December. She had seen her name come up on mock draft boards, but she wasn’t in contact personally with any teams.
She woke up fairly nervous on draft day. It was one of the first days of the spring semester, and Del Fava was in her apartment with the draft on in the background. The first round, which consisted of nine picks, went by. Several projections had her going somewhere between the 20th and 30th picks.
Then Utah, which employs reigning World Cup champion players Christen Press, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Kelley O’Hara, came to the podium with its second-round selection.
“I was kind of just doing stuff, and then all of the sudden I heard, ‘With the 12th pick, the Utah Royals select Kate Del Fava,’ and then my Dad called me instantly,” Del Fava said. “He’s crying. I’m crying. We are all crying. My phone is blowing up. It was very cool. It’s just a moment I’ll never forget.”
Del Fava, understandably, took a few days to soak in the accomplishment. She is scheduled to leave for training camp around March. She is working with her academic advisors to carve out a plan so she can still graduate as planned in May.
Del Fava is hoping to attend veterinary school, though she may have to put that off for a little longer to pursue this once in a lifetime opportunity. Maybe one day she’ll be an inspiration to a young girl with a similar passion.
“If you work hard and show up every day with a good attitude, good things will happen,” Del Fava said. “I’ve been super blessed to have this happen to me, but it’s possible for any young soccer player that wants to do it and has the right mentality going into it.”