Durango has its first National Women’s Soccer League player.
Lauren Milliet, a 2015 graduate of Durango High School and current senior at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, was drafted in the second round, 14th overall, in Thursday’s NWSL College Draft in Chicago. She was selected by the reigning NWSL champion North Carolina Courage.
“What a whirlwind of a day,” Milliet said in a phone interview with The Durango Herald. “When you’re little and they have you write down what you want to be when you’re a grown-up, I definitely put that I wanted to be a professional soccer player. It was a big dream.
“When I was in high school, I thought I had the potential to get to the next level, but I thought it maybe would have to come to an end after that. It was definitely at Colorado College that I felt I could really strive for this. I kept developing, playing and working hard, and I felt I could compete professionally. It was all about the off-seasons for me and putting in the work to get where I am today.”
Milliet was in Chicago for the draft held at McCormick Place. Prognosticators believed Milliet to be a top-30 prospect, but the Milliet family wasn’t sure she would be selected Thursday. Colorado College coach Geoff Bennett helped convince her to attend the draft. When her name was called with the fifth pick of the second round, Milliet walked on stage and shook hands with United States Soccer Federation’s Lydia Wahlke and draped a Courage scarf around her neck.
Monumental day for Lauren Milliet of the @CCTigers on being drafted by the @NWSL's @TheNCCourage. @JKurtz_MWN spoke with @CCWSoccerCoach about what this means for the Mountain West as well as all future players who dream of going pro. pic.twitter.com/qs1231xToG— Mountain West (@MW_OlySports) January 10, 2019
“I was absolutely shocked,” Milliet said. “I think my jaw was nearly on the floor. There were so many emotions running through my body. I didn’t know what to do with my hands or anything. Walking to the stage, it was the best feeling in the entire world.”
Milliet’s parents, Charlie and Janis Milliet, watched from Durango. There are only four rounds in the NWSL draft with nine teams, so only 36 players are selected. Though Colorado College is a Division I women’s soccer team that competes in the Mountain West Conference, it is difficult for a player from a smaller school to get recognized among players from powerhouse programs.
Milliet was already looking into international possibilities if her name wasn’t called by an NWSL team.
“She’s been all-in planning to play professionally,” Charlie Milliet said. “She was bound to play, and she’s good enough to play pro. It’s been her intent all along, and we’re absolutely thrilled. People have got to understand how much work she puts in personally. She has the talent, but the work she did, it’s special for us to all see that work come to fruition.”
Milliet finished her collegiate career with an All-Pacific Region Second Team honor by the United Soccer Coaches. It was her second consecutive all-region honor, and she also went on to be named to the United Soccer Coaches’ Scholar All-West Region Team with a 3.58 grade-point average as an English major.
The Durango almuna finished her collegiate career with 21 goals and 16 assists for 58 points. She had eight game-winning goals and assisted on another seven.
The 5-foot-1 midfielder was a two-time co-captain for the Tigers and was a two-time All-Mountain West Conference First Team recipient.
Before she ever played a game in a Tigers uniform, Milliet joined the Tigers in South Korea for the World University Games. She scored the team’s goal in a 1-0 win against South Africa in pool play.
Milliet credited her college coaches for their work reaching out to NWSL coaches and general managers, sending highlight tapes and also urging other Mountain West coaches to recommend Milliet to professional teams.
“College was a roller-coaster,” said Milliet, who helped the Tigers finish 9-7-1 and reach the first round of the conference tournament her senior season. “It was all about persevering through the downs. Growing up in a small town and facing challenges prepared me for college and the things that come with being a college athlete.
“At Colorado College, I made friends for life and had a coaching staff that would do anything for me, and I’d do anything for them. It’s been an unbelievable experience.”
Milliet was a three-year varsity player at Durango High. In 32 career games, she scored 22 goals, including 14 her senior season, and had 10 assists. Her high school coach, Dalon Parker, now the head coach of Multnomah University men’s soccer in Portland, Oregon, was ecstatic to hear the news of Milliet’s selection, though he wasn’t surprised.
“I always used to go around saying that she would put Durango on the map as far as soccer,” Parker said. “Her work ethic, her game, how bad she wanted it and how focused she always was, this doesn’t shock me, but I know it took a lot of work. Her whole family is filled with greatness. When they put their minds to something, they go get it.”
Milliet is from a strong soccer family. Her older sister Brooke played at Fort Lewis College, and her younger sister Katie also starred at Durango High.
Still, Milliet’s path to professional soccer has defied odds. She is only the second player in Colorado College history to be drafted into the NWSL after Jessie Ayers was taken 26th overall by FC Kansas City in 2015.
“From the small town of Durango all the way to the NWSL, there’s so many things that work against you,” Charlie Milliet said. “The paradise tax of living in Durango where it’s hard to get experience and exposure. Then to be at Colorado College that is not a huge school, it’s an improbable journey for her to have made. She had lots of opportunities as a kid to play other sports, but without the great community support and DYSA program, she wouldn’t be where she is.”
After growing up playing in the Durango Youth Soccer Association, a few years of club in Albuquerque and at Durango High School, Milliet hopes she can be an inspiration to an entire town of young athletes.
“I think anyone from a small town or who has gone to a small program, this is an inspiration for any young girl that thinks they have a shot,” she said. “Don’t give up on your dream. I certainly didn’t, and I got there today. It’s about how willing you are to make sacrifices to get to the next level.”
Last year, the North Carolina Courage won the Women’s International Champions Cup, the NWSL Championship and the NWSL Shield. Steve Malik bought the club in 2017 and moved it to North Carolina after it previously was the Western New York Flash, which won the 2016 NWSL Championship.
The Courage are coached by Paul Riley, who led the club to the 2016 and 2018 championships. He also previously coached the Portland Thorns of the NWSL and won two championships with the Philadelphia Independence in the Women’s Professional Soccer league.
Milliet will join Riley and the Courage for upcoming camps while working to finish her academics.
“I need to be prepared for everything they throw my way,” Milliet said. “I’m throwing everything I have into my academics and athletics and forging my own path one step at a time.”