After leaving incredible legacies at both Decatur High School and Western Washington University, Sierra Shugarts, 22, has taken her soccer talents international.
Shugarts, a Federal Way native, signed her first professional soccer contract in late July to play for Motala AIF in Sweden.
A defender throughout college, Shugarts is now an attacking midfielder — a position she hasn’t played since high school — and is already off to a strong start in Sweden.
“I’ve only been here for about a week, but it was a long trip with a quick turnaround and I had my first game on Friday,” she said this week. “I scored a goal and played about 80 minutes, which was more than I expected. It was my first pro goal and it was really exciting.”
She will call Motala, a small town about 152 miles southwest of Stockholm, home for the next two months as she lives out her childhood dream.
“Ever since I was 6 years old, all I ever wanted was to be a professional soccer player,” she wrote on her social media accounts to announce the news on July 27.
Her dream took years of hard work to achieve, and that dedication is evident in her ever-growing list of accolades: NCAA Division II National Player of the Year in 2016, First Team Division II All-American in 2016, GNAC Female Athlete of the Year (all sports) in 2016-17. As team captain for two consecutive seasons, she helped led the WWU women’s soccer team to become NCAA Division II National Champions in 2016.
She also played a season with some of the best athletes from around the country during her summer stint with the Seattle Sounders Women in 2017.
The chemistry between Shugarts and her teammates during her time at Western was irreplaceable, she said.
Despite an injury setback and missing the preseason of her senior year, Shugarts ended her college career having started 63 of her 84 total games played. She also found the time to earn her bachelor’s degree in communications while at Western.
“I was out for a month and a half of senior year when I broke my foot,” she said. “It refocused me. I realized it’s not about me, it’s about the team.”
The decision to take her passion for soccer around the world wasn’t an easy one.
“After my senior year ended in the Sweet 16 [championship bracket], I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to continue to play,” she said. “I thought maybe soccer isn’t what I wanted to do anymore.”
In the following weeks, Shugarts got an agent to offer post-graduation guidance. She went to rounds of job interviews and coached at the Pete Fewing Soccer Camps for a majority of her summer, waiting for something to spark her interest.
Through word-of-mouth and help from members of the soccer community, the opportunity to play abroad presented itself.
“It happened quick,” she said. “One day I found out I received the offer, the next day I had to say yes or no, then I [moved] about a week or two later.”
Despite the chaos of moving to a new country and the inevitable jetlag, Shugarts said she finds her strength on the field and in moments of solitude.
“I didn’t realize how much I wanted to play until I got here,” she said. “Now I realize I really do want to play and that I want to play at a higher level.”
Shugarts does her best to soak up the experience and seize every opportunity that comes her way, she said.
“It’s not a bad life having to only worry about soccer, working out, and being fit,” she said with a laugh. “Things don’t need to be so serious all the time.”
Simple changes in her phrasing or self-talk are proving how powerful the mind is, she said, especially hearing people say she’d never play college soccer, or voicing other doubts.
“It motivates me because I know I can be whoever I want and I can achieve whatever I want,” she said. “I’m pushing myself to limits I never thought I could.”
Inspiration for this international adventure also came from Shugart’s boyfriend, Taylor Stafford, a former basketball player for WWU with his own mountain of honors. Stafford, the GNAC Player of the Year for 2016-17 and NABC First Team All-American, is currently playing abroad in Estonia.
“He inspired me,” she said. “I was like ‘if you can do it, I can do it.’”
In her freetime, Shugarts works as the social media manager for The Lifestyle Business Owner, a business academy owned by her mom, Mayumi, and stepfather, Aaron.
Shugarts can be found cooking up new vegan recipes or working out and teaching fitness classes at Apex Fitness NW in Bellingham.
“Right now I’m in the moment where I might as well see how far I can push my body, to be the healthiest it can be,” she said. “I’m becoming more knowledgeable about my health, fitness and my body.”
Shugart’s next game with Motala AIF is on Aug. 19.