Go Forth From Here
Confession: I am not a women’s professional soccer fan. At least, I haven’t been up until now. But big things are happening in women’s professional sports here in the Bay Area, and without a doubt, I’m here for it.
I met Leslie Osborne ’05 a couple of years ago when she and her family moved into our neighborhood. We became friendly and I joined her Instagram following about six months later. From there, I watched the story of the region’s newest professional women’s sports team unfold. Together with fellow alumnae Brandi Chastain ’91, Danielle Slaton ’02, and Aly Wagner ’02, Osborne was hustling to secure a bid for the 14th franchise of the National Women’s Soccer League. This spring, that dream became a reality.
It’s hard to deny the allure of a women-owned business bringing professional women’s sports to the Bay Area, especially when the people behind it are Broncos. We teamed up with Santa Clara Magazine for a conversation with the Founding Four. Sitting in a room with these accomplished alumnae, I was struck by three things: their passion for their purpose, their easy camaraderie, and their unwavering Bronco pride.
Chastain, Osborne, Slaton, and Wagner have dedicated their professional lives to soccer, first as players and now as team founders and owners. The course they have charted is intentional, driven by a desire to do more, to be more, to give more.
The seeds of their efforts were sewn here at Santa Clara, where they played and graduated, albeit in different years. Santa Clara was an inflection point for each of them—a time when education, soccer, coaching, and community (not necessarily in that order) came together to put them on a path forward. A path that would eventually lead to this moment and to the birth of Bay FC.
Santa Clara hasn’t always been the women’s soccer powerhouse that it is today. What brought you to SCU in the first place?
Brandi Chastain: Women’s soccer started at SCU in the 1980s, and I think it became a full Division I program around 1985. I grew up around here and went to Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose. Initially, I thought SCU was too familiar and I didn’t want to go here. So, I chose Cal Berkeley. It was a great experience, but it didn’t turn out the way I thought it would. I had a tumultuous 2 1/2 years there. Thank goodness the universe knew more than I did. All roads eventually led back to Santa Clara.
Coming to SCU was like starting over. My first year here was 1989. We went to the Final Four and lost in the semifinal. That was the first time a women’s team from Santa Clara had ever been to a championship weekend.
The following year we were the number one team in the country. We were undefeated until we got to the semifinal. That game was epic in every possible way. It had all the storylines. It didn’t turn out to be the first championship for Santa Clara, which was disappointing, but it was an incredible experience. I think it was the first time the University realized that women’s athletics could draw attention.
Aly Wagner: For me, it’s a simple answer: I wanted to win the first-ever national championship for Santa Clara.
I was lucky to be recruited to some of the top programs in the country, and I could have gone somewhere else. But I didn’t want to help North Carolina win their 30th national championship. I didn’t want to go to Notre Dame and help them win their second. I wanted to go to Santa Clara and do something that hadn’t been achieved yet. I wanted to do something different.
Danielle Slaton: Yeah, I’m not going to lie—I just wanted to win.
Of course, I wanted to get a good education but as a 17-year-old who was still figuring things out, I had this big, important thing in my life. I knew I was going to learn things along the way, but I came here because I wanted to win and I thought I could do that at Santa Clara.
You’re all graduates of Santa Clara, but largely from different class years. What brought you together as leaders in the effort to bring professional women’s soccer to the Bay Area?
Chastain: I think it’s really just the ethos of the place and the people. Our energy and our endeavor with this team is in the direction of serving others. We want to create an environment that makes people want to go out and do great things.
So, it’s the ethos, but it’s also this place. Santa Clara breeds this willingness to embrace the uniqueness of people. We want players to come from all over. Talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not. I’m certainly not the first person to say that, but we really want to support that.
Slaton: I’d add that we have so many shared experiences, regardless of when we went to school here. We have a lot of similar foundational pieces.
And, all of us went in the same direction after Santa Clara. We all played for the U.S. Women’s National Team, so we have a lot of shared experiences at that level as well. It connects us even further. In many ways, it opened more doors for us.
When you look at years and years of shared experiences—the understanding; all the blood, sweat and tears and crying and like the highest highs, the lowest lows, the biggest fights, the biggest celebrations—all of that builds a really deep reservoir of relationship. I think that’s important when you’re building something like we are.
Aly grew up going to summer soccer camps here at SCU, watching Brandi play. I came to camp here one summer, too. So, there’s this history of watching Brandi—of us standing on her shoulders. It’s really about connection, from the pioneers in women’s soccer to the women you see on the field today wearing a Bronco uniform.
Wagner: In a way, I think the piece that really connects all of us is the influence of Jerry Smith. It’s no surprise to me that a lot of his athletes have gone on to have outstanding professional careers as players. Jerry doesn’t just teach you the game, he teaches you to think. That’s very different from a lot of other coaches. He opened the door for so many of his athletes.
Jerry very intentionally created leaders out of us. I think we’re seeing the payoff of what we learned as college players in this new chapter. I would credit what he did for all of us as being one of the driving forces for us—both individually and collectively.
There seems to be something unique about Santa Clara in terms of its appeal to female athletes—something that other schools either can’t or don’t replicate successfully. What do you think sets SCU apart?
Leslie Osborne: Santa Clara has this incredible support system. I’m originally from Wisconsin and I remember coming out here to visit. We met so many people—Fr. Locatelli, Fr. Soukup, the coaches, a bunch of professors. Until that trip, my parents wanted me to go to Notre Dame, which was closer to home, but after that visit, even they were wowed by the support system they saw at Santa Clara. As students, we were gone all the time playing. Everyone made sure we were taken care of.
Now, 20 years later, when I ask myself, “Why did you choose Santa Clara?” the answer is yes, the ability to win a national championship, but it’s also the connections and network here. That’s the added factor that I don’t think other universities offer—that’s our sweet sauce.
Slaton: Support happens in different ways, too. In 1998, when I came here, it was the first time Santa Clara women’s soccer was fully funded. There had been a tremendous amount of success, thanks to Brandi and the women who came before me, and Fr. Locatelli advocated for the program to have the full complement of scholarships.
I promise you I would not have been able to come here without that. No question. If I hadn’t come, I wouldn’t have met Brandi, Aly, and Leslie. If we hadn’t won, if we hadn’t found success and made the National Team, there probably wouldn’t be a Bay Area team. It’s not hard for me to connect those dots.
Chastain: There’s something to be said about the look of SCU athletics today. There are women, like Dr. Renee Baumgartner and Staci Gustafson, in leadership. That looks and feels different from other places.
I also think the size of our University lends itself to building those connections. You can find what you need in a reasonable space and time. That was one thing I noticed immediately coming from a large university like Cal to Santa Clara. I remember one time I had a problem with a project. I called Fr. Soukup—it was probably 2 a.m.—and he came in 15 minutes. That’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen everywhere.
In alumni relations, we talk about the Santa Clara family a lot. It’s something that stands out about SCU compared to its peers—that sense of community. You did the publicity shot for the announcement of your NWSL franchise on campus. What is it about Santa Clara that keeps you connected?
Osborne: There are so many reasons! The games, the people, Fr. Soukup—who traveled with the team—our professors. I remember how accommodating our professors were. I always felt like they supported us not just in the classroom, but on the field too. They would keep in touch, sending us notes and amazing vibes. That’s so uniquely Santa Clara.
We have a lot of friends who played at other universities, and they don’t have the same kind of connection. They hear about our alumni groups and see the connections that we still have years later. They didn’t have anything close to that experience.
Every time I come back to the SCU campus, I get this feeling. I chose to come here. I moved here when I was 18 because it was my dream to play here. When I retired from playing, I came back to live here. I want to be close to this place because of the influence and impact it had on my life.
Slaton: Just quote that. Ditto.
Chastain: Absolutely. I’m basically married to Santa Clara by choice.
Wagner: The school has always done a fantastic job of taking care of us as alumni and following our careers. There are a lot of quality individuals who work at Santa Clara. It’s one of those networks that always feels familiar. It’s one of those schools that draws you back in, and that’s important.
In 2024 Bay FC will begin playing here in the Bay Area. Looking back, how do you think having a professional team in your backyard would have affected your time at SCU?
Osborne: I actually had that. At the time the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) had a team here. During my first three years at SCU, I thought I was going to go on to play professionally for the WUSA. That was the track I was on. But, in the beginning of my senior year, the league folded. After that, I didn’t think playing professionally would be an option. Fortunately, I was part of the U.S. Women’s National Team and I had a different path than 95 percent of the other seniors in the country. I remember vividly thinking I was so lucky that I had a place to continue to play, because so many other seniors who thought they’d have an opportunity (to play more), no longer had one.
Slaton: With Bay FC playing here in the Bay Area, there’s an opportunity for Santa Clara players to continue to play in their own backyard. Just having a team here can make all the difference.
A few years ago, I was listening to one of the Ignatian Center’s “Search for What Matters” lunchtime talks and I heard the phrase “go forth from.” I thought, “That’s what we’re doing!” And, that idea has really stuck with me. If you just build a place where people will go forth from, you will build something that everyone wants to come to.
We want to build something really special—something that attracts the best players in the world. This is certainly a place where people, players, and staff want to come. This is going to be a place people “go forth from.”
Lindsey Kouvaris ’02 is the Associate Director of Storytelling for the Santa Clara University Alumni Association.
Grand Reunion Spotlight: The Player’s Perspective
Join Leslie Osborne ’05 and Danielle Slaton ’02 at Grand Reunion for a conversation and Q&A about the road from SCU to Bay FC. Learn more »
Top to bottom: Allison+Partners Studio. Bay FC logo, courtesy of Allison + Partners. Brandi Chastain playing for SCU, circa 1990, courtesy of SCU Athletics. Danielle Slaton (left) and Aly Wagner (right), 2001, NCAA College Cup Press Conference, courtesy of SCU Athletics. Leslie Osborne, Santa Clara University Mission Campus, Instagram post, 2023, courtesy of Leslie Osborne.