Tulsa has produced elite female soccer players for years. Now, the local girls who have starred at the club and high school levels can come back to their hometown and play at a higher level.
Fortuna Tulsa, a new franchise in the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL), begins play on May 25 against Oklahoma City FC on their new home field, the Hurricane Soccer and Track Complex at The University of Tulsa.
Owned by Tulsans Dave Hibbard and Barry Williams, the team has local ties in the front office and on the field. General Manager Wayne Farmer and head coach Michael Wilson both played for the Tulsa Athletic of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), and each was happy to add to the city’s rich soccer culture.
"The owners made a big impression on me—the investment they wanted to make in the women’s game, the fact that they wanted to make something that gave not just to females in sports but to the community as well," said Wilson, who also coaches the Union High School boys’ squad. "That’s a massive piece that was important."
The WPSL, which includes both professional and amateur players, is the second-best league in the U.S. for women’s soccer, behind the all-professional National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). The WPSL is also the largest women’s soccer league in the world, with over 100 teams overall. Tulsa will compete in the Southwest Conference of the Central Region with five other squads.
Teams have the option of paying their players or, like Fortuna Tulsa, remaining fully amateur and utilizing college and recently-graduated players. They can’t pay some and not others, because then the amateurs would lose their NCAA eligibility; it must be one or the other.
"You can structure your team professionally, where you can pay players, or you can go with the model that we’re using, where you’ll use college players," Farmer explained. "I think FC Dallas, who’s in our conference, they’ve gone the professional model and paid people, and their team has been fantastic. But we feel, with the players we have, there are so many great girls that have come through youth soccer in Tulsa, and now currently they’re playing college."
The team’s roster is filled with recent local high school stars that are now playing for top NCAA Division I programs, such as Taylor Malham and Parker Goins, who helped Union High School win three straight Class 6A state championships. Both now play for the University of Arkansas and have also competed internationally on various U.S. youth national teams. They will be joined by several other former Union teammates, such as Paige Hobart (University of Oklahoma), sisters Rachel (Oklahoma State) and Haley VanFossen (Arkansas), and Anna Beffer (Oklahoma State).
Other high-profile locals on the 30-player roster include Nayeli Perez (Jenks, Arkansas), Tatum Wagner (Bixby, Kansas State), Jordan Langebartels (Summit Christian, Oral Roberts) and Hannah Warner (Owasso, Oklahoma State).
While the team is free to sign players from anywhere, Farmer and Wilson placed an emphasis on ensuring Fortuna Tulsa retained a local flavor.
"It was important to us to make sure that we had local players," Farmer said, "that we could connect with the city, but also that these girls could develop and have a chance to get better playing in their hometown. It’s really exciting that we can bring all these girls back to Tulsa and put them on one field to represent the city."
"We want to have local players and show Tulsa we don’t need to go out and try and bring in big names from elsewhere," Wilson added. "We can do it because we’ve got the talent here. It’s important that we can showcase that talent."
"We’re really excited about what we can do on game day," Farmer said. "Obviously, they have the splash pad and play park next door, and we’re going to do some live music, a little gathering before the game."
As for the team name, it derives from Roman mythology.
"Fortuna was known as the Goddess of Fortune and the personification of luck within the Roman religion," said co-owner Hibbard, who is also the team president. "Essentially, Fortuna Tulsa means ‘Good Luck Tulsa.’"
Fortuna Tulsa vs. Oklahoma City FC
Friday, May 25
Tailgate 5 p.m., Doors 6 p.m., Kickoff 7 p.m.
The University of Tulsa stadium
512 S. Delaware Ave.
$5 | fortunatulsa.com