By Samantha Lund ’16
PLU Marketing & Communications
TACOMA, Wash. (Sept. 28, 2015)—In eighth grade, Annika Smith-Ortiz ‘19 competed in a distance-kicking competition during gym class. Now, she’s competing with Pacific Lutheran University’s football team as its first female player.
After playing Junior Varsity and Varsity games at Edina High School in Minnesota, Smith-Ortiz was contacted by PLU Assistant Head Coach Jud Keim about playing through college.
She originally thought she would come to PLU just to study, but when Keim gave her the opportunity, she realized how much she wanted to continue playing football.
“Annika really put us on her radar in the recruiting process,” Keim said. “We don’t really recruit in Minnesota, but she sent us some information and film, and we were mostly impressed with her because of her interest in PLU—and for all the right reasons.”
Keim reached out to her high-school coach at Edina, asking him, “Is this legit?” The coach told Keim that Smith-Ortiz was indeed a good choice.
“I consider myself just so lucky to get to play,” Smith-Ortiz said.
High-school football was much harder for her than college ball. Smith-Ortiz said she had to navigate her way through uniform, personal and physical challenges mostly on her own because other female players were hard to find. However, at PLU, Smith-Ortiz said, it’s a completely different ballgame.
“Other than being the ‘one and only’ in the upstairs women’s locker room, we haven’t had to make adjustments to all the basic logistics of the football program,” Keim said. “She’s rolled right with us out to practice, at practice and the various team meetings we have.”
For her, the PLU football family has been accepting, and there was never a discussion about her gender; she is simply a member of the team.
“This team is very different,” Smith-Ortiz said. “Everyone here plays for the heart, and it’s a real team.”
In addition to making history at PLU, Smith-Ortiz also has high hopes for life after college. Currently studying Pre-Med and a member of The Reserve of Officers Training (ROTC) at PLU, she plans on becoming an Army surgeon and serving her country.
“I just think: I get to go to this school and do all of these amazing things, and the only reason I get to is because there are people fighting to keep me safe and give me that right,” she said.