Iowa soccer senior Sara Wheaton leads as a reliable defender

The senior defender has been the focal point of the Hawkeye offense since 2018 and serves as a team captain this season.


Grace Smith

Iowa defender, Sara Wheaton, and Penn State midfielder, Payton Lineman, fight for the ball during the Iowa women’s soccer match v. Penn State at the Iowa Soccer Complex on Thursday, March 25, 2021. The Nittany Lions defeated the Hawkeyes 1-0.

Isaac Goffin, Sports Reporter

As she stands on the backline with the ball, Iowa soccer senior defender Sara Wheaton analyzes the pitch and shouts to her team before making a move.

In those moments, Wheaton’s teammates know they can rely on her — so much so she was elected as one of the team’s two captains before the start of the fall season.

Wheaton has started every game for the Hawkeyes since 2018, excluding one game she missed in 2020-21 with an injury.

As a core strength of the team, Wheaton has been a significant part of building Iowa’s defense.

Wheaton led the defense to a combined 14 shutouts in her sophomore and junior season — crucial in allowing Iowa to make the NCAA championships in 2019 and 2021.

“She’s an adult who is mentally and physically strong and has grown to emotionally be comfortable with the nuances of the game,” Iowa head coach Dave DiIanni said. “Maybe not having her best game, it doesn’t knock her into a loop that knocks her out for two weeks, she just flips a switch and goes from there. But she’s been very steady.”

Originally from Chandler, Arizona, Wheaton was familiar with the Midwest before she moved to Iowa because she has family in the region. Wheaton said Iowa was the best program she could have chosen.

“As a freshman, you always want to make an impact on the program one way or another,” Wheaton said. “So, having these opportunities that I have been given these past four years have just been amazing, and I couldn’t be more grateful.”

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The senior’s skillful play doesn’t only help her fellow defenders, it also helps her forwards and midfielders further up on the pitch.

Graduate transfer forward Courtney Powell appreciates how Wheaton tries to get the ball over the opposing team’s defense. Powell said it fits her style of play.

“Outside of the game and inside, she’s always looking out for everyone,” Powell said. “Always has positive and encouraging words, and she doesn’t let much behind her in the backline. So, it’s good knowing you can rely on her as a leader in the back.”

Despite focusing on defense, Wheaton has found the back of the net five times in her career — near and far away from the goal. Against Illinois in 2019, she scored in highlight fashion from near the center line after missing the back post — her intended target — on a free kick.

Wheaton also had one of the most important goals in Hawkeye history. In Iowa’s first-round matchup of the 2021 NCAA Championships against Campbell, Wheaton scored the lone goal of the game in the fourth minute.

The NCAA gave all 2020-21 student-athletes an extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19. While this season would be Wheaton’s last under normal circumstances, she plans on competing in 2022 as a fifth-year senior.

“I just love the team and soccer has been a part of my life for so long,” Wheaton said. “So being able to get the opportunity that came from a bad circumstance for everyone, getting a good opportunity out of it, I definitely wanted to take advantage of it.”

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