Published May 18, 2024



The WPSL’s Heartland Conference kicked off its 2024 season on Saturday, May 18 at Avila University, as Sunflower State FC took on the reigning conference champions KC Courage. Like last season, the balance of the conference skews towards newer teams, with five of its seven teams playing either their first or second season in the league. Oklahoma City FC, playing its 16th WPSL season, is the oldest team among the seven but is a newcomer to the Heartland Conference, joining from the competitive Red River Conference last year.


KC Courage enters the 2024 season looking for its second straight trip to the Central Region playoffs. After a 7-0-3 season where the Courage finished first in the Heartland Conference standings and fourth in the regional standings, the club lost a tight game in the first round of the playoffs to the Colorado Rapids Women, a team that played in the 2022 championship game.


The Courage owner Wendy Louque did not set expectations for the team this year in terms of wins or how deep of a playoff run they make. Instead, she said she would consider the season a success if the Courage’s players who are still in college return to their collegiate teams healthy and as better players than when the season started, and if the post-collegiate players have fun continuing to play at a high level.


This year, the Courage has an approximately even split between collegiate and non-collegiate players. The team’s core, according to Louque, is those who are post-college, but the team has a number of players who are still in college and even some who are still in high school. Players to watch this season include goalkeeper Kaylin Williams-Mosier (Eastern Michigan University), who has played professionally in Albania, and Rahael Aka-Ety (Mississippi Valley State University), who was named the WPSL’s National Player of the Week in week six last season.

The Courage are ranked fourth in the Central Region preseason rankings and sit 10th in the national rankings.


Union KC, which rebranded from Kansas City Scott Gallagher after last season, is back for its second WPSL season after finishing third in the conference standings last year. The team was ranked ninth in the preseason regional standings. Although head coach Dan Naidu said last year that he considered his team’s inaugural year a “huge success,” expectations will undoubtedly be higher for the team this year now that they have more experience in the league. Union KC doesn’t open their season until May 25, when they will travel to Rockhurst University to play Sunflower State FC.


Sunflower State also has higher expectations this season, according to team director Salvatore Sesti. The team finished fourth in the conference standings last year with a 3-6-1 record, but the team is looking for a better record this year.


“We picked up some good wins and put up some good results, but it was our first year and it was definitely a shock to some of the girls, just the level of competition compared to the competition we played the year before,” Sesti said. Sunflower State was not a member of the WPSL prior to 2023. 


Sesti said the team’s main goal is to “be better than what we were last year,” and all signs point in that direction: he said the coach has a clear plan for the season while the players have created better team culture and are gelling together better this season. Like Louque, he did not put a number on how many wins the team is aiming for or how deep of a playoff run they hope to make.


Mackenzie Dimarco (Emporia State) will play for Sunflower State again this season; she was the team’s top goal scorer last season and set the MIAA (Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association) record for total career goals in fall of 2023 during her senior season. Sesti said she declared for the NWSL draft earlier this year but did not get drafted, so she will return to the WPSL this summer.


The final returning team from last season also rebranded: from AFC Columbia to the Missouri Reign. AFC Columbia finished winless last season, after the club had not fielded a women’s team in the past. Reign President and Head Coach Dakota Acock said this year, the team has a number of new personnel and players so it’s like starting from scratch.

“We talked a lot about just getting a little bit better every day, establishing the right culture, getting good training habits, and building chemistry for the season,” Acock said.


“Winning that first game will be a goal for sure, but we also have talked about how we aren’t going to win the season in one night,” he continued. “That happens behind the scenes, so really just continuing to develop is a priority.”


Acock also emphasized community involvement as one of his team’s priorities this year and building a team that the Mid-Missouri region can be proud of.


Because of the amount of new players, Acock did not name any specific players who could turn into stars, although he noted that several women earned collegiate honors last season at their respective colleges and could make waves in the WPSL this year. Like the Courage, the Reign are made up of players from all different soccer backgrounds: many are college players, while others are incoming college freshmen, some are recent college grads, and others have been out of soccer for a while and are looking to get back into the sport.

The conference’s two new teams, FC Wichita and Side FC 92, are relative unknowns in the WPSL given their lack of league history. Side FC will get their first taste of WPSL action on May 25, while FC Wichita will have a tough debut, visiting the Courage for its opener on May 22. Oklahoma City will make its Heartland Conference debut last, in the evening on May 29, after finishing third in the Red River standings last season with a 3-4-1 record.