20191028 Samantha Heilman - TYim

As a senior on this year's GU women's soccer team, Samantha Heilman's career has taken place during an impressive turnaround for the program. 

From freshman year to senior year, there are a lot of changes that take place within a person. All of these developments are essential for us to become better people.

Senior Samantha Heilman, a member of the Gonzaga women's soccer team, has been through many ups and downs in life. She said she would not be the person she is today without those experiences. The forward from Richland, Washington, has been through a lot during her time here as a Zag. It all started with her recruitment to GU.

Throughout her high school years  of playing soccer, Heilman and her club team would visit Spokane every year for a soccer camp hosted at GU. During her time in high school, Heilman was named second team All-State by the Washington State Soccer Coaches' Association in 2014 and 2015, Mid-Columbia Athletic Conference (MCC) and Tri-City Herald All-Area Player of the Year in 2014 and first team All-MCC in 2015.

Heilman said her club coach, Max Weber, was a big influence, as he is someone she goes to for not only soccer advice, but also for life advice. Heilman's coach plays a significant part in her life in addition to her club teammates.

After committing to GU early in her high school career, things took a turn for the worse for Heilman. 

During the summer before her freshman year of college, Heilman felt a large amount of pain while playing soccer. The pain was so sudden and severe that she was taken to the emergency room.

Heilman said they did a CT scan and the results showed she had blood clots in her lungs. 

"I was emotional because my life could have been put on the line," Heilman said. "But more important, it was motivation to never take life for granted and I needed to use the able body I'm lucky to have to the best of my ability."

She was put on blood thinners and had to medically redshirt her freshman year and could not play that season. Although her playing time at GU suffered, she looked at the positives of the situation.

“I have seen so many people rise to the occasion,” Heilman said.

Following her freshman year absence, Heilman appeared in 16 games and started in one of them as a redshirt freshman. She registered two shots on goal and scored a goal against South Dakota, playing 279 total minutes that season.

Following her redshirt freshman season, Heilman said another challenge she faced during her time at GU was finding a team to play for over the summer.

Each summer during her time at GU, Heilman stayed in Spokane. As such, she rented a room in the GU men’s soccer house. Being in Spokane by herself most of the summer was tough, but she persevered through it and has been thankful to the men's players for letting her stay at their house.

In her 2018 season as a junior, Heilman played all 18 games for GU and started 17 of them, leading the Zags with seven assists, which matched the program record. Heilman also scored a goal against Grand Canyon and was an Academic All-West Coast Conference honorable mention.

“She’s developed a ton,” head coach Chris Watkins said. “She came here just as an athlete and then kind of a soccer player, but just as an athlete. … She’s become really good with the ball. She’s become a physical player, but mostly, she’s a real student of the game. She can get crosses off for us all the time.”

In the midst of her senior year, Heilman and the Zags are enjoying a strong campaign. GU is 11-5-1 overall and 4-2-1 in WCC play. Heilman has five goals and one assist in 16 games, and has started seven matches. Heilman won WCC Player of the Week on Oct. 7 after scoring three goals against University of San Diego. Although she didn't consider the honor a big deal, Heilman said she gained confidence moving forward from that game.

"It meant more to me to hear how much my teammates supported me when they found out and how much love I received," Heilman said.

Fellow senior India Jencks said playing with Heilman has been a blessing. Jencks said Heilman is one of the most humble people she's ever met. Not only does Jencks learn from her on the field, she values the time they have together off of the field.

“I’ll miss our connections,” Jencks said. “It’s one of those things where sometimes you get really used to playing with someone. She always brings people’s energy up, and I think we are going to miss that a lot.”

Vinny Saglimbeni is a staff writer.

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