Grace Yochum: Reaching Goals
From Memorial fields to the professional soccer pitch
As the 2023 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) draft unfolded in January, former Memorial Mustangs soccer star Grace Yochum had high hopes of being selected to play professional soccer. But little did Yochum ever imagine she would be the 14th overall selection in the draft. The attacking midfielder was picked by the Chicago Red Stars FC.
“I was in shock,” said Yochum, who gathered with family and a small group of friends to watch the draft at her home in Stillwater, Ok. “My mom and dad (John and Mary Kent Yochum) came up from Houston to be with me for the draft and we were just speechless. There was just so much emotion. My college coach and I had some discussions about where I might land in the draft, but I never imagined I would be selected so high. I really had no idea where I’d be picked.”
Over 250 players representing the nation’s top collegiate soccer programs had registered to become eligible for the NWSL draft, but Yochum was just one of 48 players selected. She also became only the third player in Oklahoma State Cowgirls history to be drafted since the NWSL held its inaugural draft in 2013, the other two being AD Franch in 2013 and Charme’ Morgan last year.
Yochum began playing soccer at age four at the YMCA leagues, followed shortly by the Spring Branch Memorial Soccer Association. By the time she was a third grader, Yochum had joined the Albion Hurricanes Futbol Club, where she competed for the club’s top level teams through her high school years.
“I look back at my days with Albion and my parents driving me across Texas practically every weekend for tournaments, or even flying with me on weekends to places like Phoenix, Seattle, and Florida for soccer showcases. They were such troopers through it all. They’ve been with me through the whole ride from when I first started playing soccer as a young kid. I’d have to say this was all made possible by the support of my family, and also my amazing coaches and teammates from club, to high school and then Oklahoma State.
“Honestly, this has also all kind of caught me by surprise,” added Yochum. “I had never really dreamed about playing pro soccer. My whole goal was to excel in college and be the best that I can be. Then, at some point it just hit me. Why not? I told myself that if I have the talent and desire then why not me.”
In a highly decorated career for the Oklahoma State Cowgirls, the 5’11” midfielder was the fourth player in the program’s history to earn status as a three-time All-Big 12 selection. She also owns a school record of 41 goals scored in 91 games. In addition, Yochum was named to the 2022 United Soccer Coaches All-America Second Team. “Being named an All-American was a goal of mine for a very long time. It’s an honor I hold close to my heart,” said Yochum. Off the soccer field, Yochum graduated with a degree in elementary education and a minor in coaching science.
Flashback to five years ago when Yochum received one of her first major honors on the soccer pitch as an All-State player for the Memorial Mustangs, where she amassed 45 career goals and a school record 49 assists. As a senior in 2018, Yochum helped the Mustangs to the UIL 6A State Championship.
“A lot of people kind of move on from high school and put it in the rear-view mirror, but for me personally those teammates are still my forever friends. Winning and playing with your best friends was such a sweet time of my life. We keep up with each other just about every week. It’s just a part of my life that’s in my DNA of who I am,” added Yochum.
“Grace was one of the most athletic players to ever come through Memorial High School,” said Mustangs girls soccer coach Lindley Amarantos. “She’s a super intelligent player who uses both feet and has great vision on the field. You just can’t coach that kind of talent. She was also an outstanding four-year varsity basketball player – just a naturally gifted athlete.
“It’s remarkable when you look back at our 2018 state championship team, which had nine girls go on to play major collegiate soccer, and now Grace becomes the first to play professionally. I’ve had so many people from the Memorial and soccer community tell me how proud that are to have an alumnus that’ll soon be playing pro soccer. We were there from the start and knew there was just something special about Grace.
“The thing that’s also great about Grace is she’s someone that others can count on. She’s the ultimate competitor and also a really great friend to others. Not to mention, Grace is always clowning around and making people laugh. She’s really a total goofball who has a way of making people feel comfortable and at ease instantly,” added Amarantos.
In Chicago, Yochum will play for Red Stars head coach Chris Petrucelli, who ironically enough recruited her out of high school while coaching back then at SMU. “I’m excited to play for Coach Petrucelli; it’s kind of a full-circle moment,” said Yochum.
Speaking of coming full circle, Yochum is looking forward to returning to Houston on July 7 when the Red Stars come to town to face the Houston Dash. “It will be bittersweet. A lot of people I know wanted me to be drafted by Houston, but to come home and play pro soccer in front of my friends and family will still be amazing.”
Editor’s note: After this article was published, Grace decided not to go pro due to health-related issues. She accepted an internship position in the Oklahoma State soccer program. Find a letter from Grace's parents in the June 2023 Mailbag section.
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