Ellie Walbruch’s relentless pursuit of soccer greatness truly began when she was 10 years old.
Her family traveled from Highland to Brazil for the men’s soccer World Cup in 2014, soaking in all the excitement, drama and celebration of the world’s most popular sport. Ellie and her 12-year-old brother, Kyle, played pickup soccer on Copacabana Beach and cheered on Team USA against Ghana and Portugal.
Ellie started recreational soccer when she was 4 years old, but it was during that experience in Brazil she decided she wanted to play in the women’s World Cup someday.
Now 15 years old, Walbruch is on a path that will require hundreds of hours of hard work and enormous sacrifices. A month ago — when she was still 14 — she committed to NCAA power UCLA. She’s going to be a sophomore this fall at American Fork High School, but won’t play a minute of prep soccer. She’ll compete with La Roca Premier FC in the US Development Academy for the next three years, her best opportunity to one day play at the highest level.
Ambitious? Yes. Difficult? Absolutely. But it’s the path that Walbruch has chosen, and you won’t find a more dedicated athlete.
“I love everything about soccer,” Walbruch said. “It’s my passion. I love being on the field with my teammates. I love the competition. I love to win. I love the thrill of scoring a goal and the way it makes me feel.”
No one can question Walbruch’s commitment. Here’s a typical summer day: Wake up at 7 a.m. and run to Norton Performance for strength and agility training. After a protein shake, meet up with former Mountain View and UCLA standout James Jaramillo for personal training. There is time for a quick nap and a snack, then more shooting practice. Tournaments take Walbruch out of town at various times throughout the summer.
During the school year, Walbruch gets up at 5:45 a.m. three times a week for speed training. School takes up most of the morning and afternoon, but soon she is in a carpool on her way to Ogden for Development Academy practice, which consumes four hours from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she gets up at 4:30 a.m. to train with Jaramillo and her good friend Devi Dudley, who has committed to Clemson.
On Saturdays, she’ll often run six miles with her mother and attend more training with Jaramillo or her father. On Sundays, she’ll go to church, spend time with her family and kick the ball around in the backyard with Kyle.
“The thing that makes Ellie such a great soccer player is not only her love of the game but her determination to always improve,” her mother, Emily Walbruch, said. “She never complains. Ever. She just wants to train more. She works harder than anyone I have ever met. She’s never been the fastest, so she runs more. She’s never had the strongest leg, so she shoots more. When other kids are hanging out with friends, she’s training. She sacrifices a lot.”
Jaramillo said he knew Walbruch was special when he first met her four years ago.
“What separates Ellie is her willingness to work hard, and that’s made her one of the top finishers in the nation,” Jaramillo said. “She’s one of the best technical players I’ve ever worked with — her footwork, how she receives the ball, how she passes it. There’s just no one better in the nation at her age. Her work ethic is just unreal.”
Walbruch comes by her athleticism naturally. Her parents met while college athletes at the University of Denver. Her father, Matt, played soccer for the Pioneers and her mother was the first Utah Ms. Basketball at Timpview High School in 1995. They have four children and work from home in the construction, mortgage and real estate business.
Matt Walbruch was Ellie’s first soccer coach.
“In rec soccer she would watch all the kids get into the scrum around the ball, and when the ball popped out, she would go get it, dribble around them and score,” he said. “She’s always had a high soccer IQ and just understands the game. She can go right or left and shoot with either foot with almost the same power and precision. Not many people know which foot is dominant, which is rare.”
Spend just a few minutes with Ellie Walbruch and its obvious she’s completely focused, mature beyond her years and comfortable with her work load. She dominated the club circuit and was recruited by UCLA, BYU, Stanford, Texas, Notre Dame, Oregon, North Carolina State, Wake Forest, Georgia, Pitt, Yale, Florida and many others. Since college coaches aren’t allowed to directly call 14-year-old prospects, they would e-mail and Ellie would call them. She was nervous about the process so she wrote a script so she wouldn’t forget what she wanted to say.
Ellie plays on the U16/17 La Roca team and scored 18 goals in 30 games this season, converting on 93 percent of her shots. She has attended many elite camps but was fascinated by UCLA. In July 2018, she went to the UCLA ID camp and was told that her favorite Premier League team, Manchester United, was on campus for practice. One day she was walking to her dorm and saw a golf cart approaching. On the cart was one of her favorite players, MU’s Alexis Sanchez.
“He was passing by and I said, ‘What’s up, Alexis?’ and he waved to me,” Ellie said. “It was such a great moment.”
The UCLA coaches watched her several times but the clincher came when they saw her at a tournament in Denver.
“Ellie scored a hat trick and I’d never seen college coaches so blown away by one player,” Jaramillo said. “That’s when they offered.”
Ellie said she had been talking to the UCLA coaches for about nine months and wanted to choose a college before a pending NCAA rule change. If she didn’t commit before the end of April, she would have to wait until June of her junior year in high school to talk to any coaches. The day before the deadline, she called UCLA coach Amanda Cromwell and accepted the scholarship offer for the Class of 2022.
“UCLA had everything that I wanted,” Ellie said. “I have a dream of being on the national team and playing professional soccer one day. UCLA has a lot of players who have done those things. They have incredible facilities, great coaches, a beautiful campus, high academic standards and a winning tradition.”
Her parents were hoping Ellie might choose someplace a little closer to home, but left the decision up to her.
“As a mom it was very difficult to let her make her own decision,” Emily Walbruch said. “We had many, many discussions about her college choices and the pros and cons of each. As a parent you sometimes envision something that you think will happen but you just have to let go and let her make her own decision.”
Ellie Walbruch has shouldered a lot of responsibility and made very important life choices about her future before she even received her driver’s license. Could this be a case of “too much, too soon” for a young athlete?
“It might be,” Matt Walbruch admitted. “But when you feel as good as she has felt about UCLA, I feel OK. Ellie has dreams and she has an idea of where she wants to be. Up until a few months ago, I thought she would go to a great university, play soccer, get married and start a profession. But she told me, ‘Dad, I want to be a professional soccer player.’
“Years ago that didn’t exist. To have the ability and the leagues around the world where a young girl can dream about that actually become a pro soccer player and make a living is incredible. If this is her path and she wants this, we support her 100 percent.”
Ellie Walbruch approached her decision to train in the Development Academy just like she plays the game: She was all in.
“It really wasn’t a hard decision for me,” she said. “As soon as I found out that La Roca got accepted in to the Development Academy there was no question of where I wanted to be. Soccer is my life and the Development Academy fits my goals. It focuses on training and developing my skills and it is the direct pathway to the national team. I knew it is where I would get noticed the most by college coaches and also US scouts.
“I know it is a high goal for me but I want to work as hard as I can to reach it. The Development Academy may not be for every girl out there but it has been the best decision for me. I realize that I have to sacrifice a lot — for example, playing high school soccer — but I have loved every second of it and wouldn’t change it for the world.”