From Pee-Wee to Divison One

Local Renton seniors ready to attend university and play soccer

From Pee-Wee soccer rivals to roommates — two seniors are looking forward to continuing their soccer careers together at the University of Wyoming.

Rae Gerking, Hazen High School, and Nikayla Copenhaver, Liberty High School, both committed to the school for the Division One Cowgirls soccer team during the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) National Letter of Intent Day, Nov. 13.

The girls started playing recreation center soccer in Renton around age six. On separate teams, they both remember each other as the best to play against.

“I just remember knowing her team was good and my team was good. It was always the fun game,” Gerking said. “Like, ‘Oh, we get to play Nikki’s team.’”

The two then attended different schools but were brought closer by soccer. They started to play at the same leagues together more and more, both eventually ending up at Washington Premier Football Club. In high school, their friend groups have also had some crossover.

When asked about their soccer positions, in sync they said they’re “opposites.” Gerking is a center defender and Copenhaver is a center forward. Both have kept the fun rivalry from their childhood too, often playing one-on-one during downtime at practices.

“We make each other better,” Gerking said.

Courtesy of Lynn Gerking. Rae Gerking and Nikayla Copenhaver have been friends since playing soccer against each other at six years old. Now they will play together and be roommates at University of Wyoming.

Courtesy of Lynn Gerking. Rae Gerking and Nikayla Copenhaver have been friends since playing soccer against each other at six years old. Now they will play together and be roommates at University of Wyoming.

Courtesy of Lynn Gerking. Rae Gerking and Nikayla Copenhaver have been friends since playing soccer against each other at six years old. Now they will play together and be roommates at University of Wyoming.

Courtesy of Lynn Gerking. Rae Gerking and Nikayla Copenhaver have been friends since playing soccer against each other at six years old. Now they will play together and be roommates at University of Wyoming.

Both athletes are four-time soccer varsity letter winners. Copenhaver has been All-State three times, Most Valuable Player, team captain during her junior year and helping her team win back-to-back 2A State titles. She also helped her club team get to the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) playoffs. Gerking is team captain at Hazen this year, three-time First Team all-league and helped the club team go two northwest conference championships.

Highlander soccer coach, Bre Vandenbos, spoke at the letter of intent signing at Hazen High School about Gerking.

“I’ve known Rae for four years and she likes to pretend she’s not inspirational,” Vandenbos said. “She’s been an outstanding center defender. She’s going to do very well as a Cowgirl.”

When they were off the field growing up, the girls often talked about the books they were reading. Both have confessed to being the kids that always had a book in their hand, bonding over “Hunger Games” and “The Mortal Instruments.” They’re also Academic All-conference and honor roll students.

Both wanted to play soccer in university, with Division One as a high achievement for women athletes in the sport. Gerking had decided on University of Wyoming early, around her sophomore year after visiting it and other schools. Copenhaver was interested in junior year after inviting them to see her play in Arizona. Both went to the university’s Identification (ID) camp between junior and senior year and loved the school.

Gerking and Copenhaver like the small-town vibe of the school’s location, Laramie, Wyoming, and the way the state rallies around the university’s sports teams. They also get soccer attention as the only soccer team at Wyoming. Copenhaver is looking forward to exploring a culture and community that’s so different from the Seattle area. And Gerking is looking forward to playing against unfamiliar faces and she gets the ease of designing her dorm with Copenhaver.

“It makes leaving a lot easier,” Copenhaver said. “It’s kind of crazy, we’re going to live most of our young adult lives together.”

Other athletes sign-up for future college teams

Photo by Haley Ausbun. Left to right: Eric Bunnell, Rae Gerking and Ethan Dang. These Hazen High School students signed on to be college athletes on Nov. 13 at a ceremony at Hazen High School.

Photo by Haley Ausbun. Left to right: Eric Bunnell, Rae Gerking and Ethan Dang. These Hazen High School students signed on to be college athletes on Nov. 13 at a ceremony at Hazen High School.

Courtesy of Lynn Gerking. Left to right: Ethan Dang, Rae Gerking and Eric Bunnell. These Hazen High School students signed on to be college athletes on Nov. 13 at a ceremony at Hazen High School.

Courtesy of Lynn Gerking. Left to right: Ethan Dang, Rae Gerking and Eric Bunnell. These Hazen High School students signed on to be college athletes on Nov. 13 at a ceremony at Hazen High School.

Congratulations to the other Hazen students who signed letters of intent on Nov. 13.

Ethan Dang, a swimmer with Bellevue Club Swim Team, signed to Stanford University for the swim team for breaststroke and Individual Medley (IM). Dang was on the U.S. Youth Olympic Team and has two upcoming Olympic qualifying trials, for 100 and 200-meter breaststroke. He is the fastest 200-meter breaststroke swimmer of the nation’s high school class of 2020.

Eric Bunnell will be attending Western Washington University and playing on the men’s soccer team as a forward. Last season Bunnell led North Puget Sound League (NPSL) Cascade in boy’s soccer scoring, assists and total points. He was also a Renton Reporter Male Athlete of the Week.

Photo by Haley Ausbun. Left to right: Eric Bunnell, Rae Gerking and Ethan Dang. These Hazen High School students signed on to be college athletes on Nov. 13 at a ceremony at Hazen High School.

Photo by Haley Ausbun. Left to right: Eric Bunnell, Rae Gerking and Ethan Dang. These Hazen High School students signed on to be college athletes on Nov. 13 at a ceremony at Hazen High School.

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