LAKE MILLS — Ava Stelter grew up attending University of Wisconsin women’s soccer games with her dad and going to their camps, developing a relationship with head coach Paula Wilkins dating back to when she was 10 or 11.
Stelter, a junior at Lake Mills High School, recently verbally committed to continuing her athletic and academic career at UW. She can officially sign her National Letter of Intent next year after turning 18.
“Growing up it’s always kind of been Wisconsin for me,” Stelter explained. “I never considered going anywhere else. My dad and I would go to their games growing up. I made that choice at a young age. I went to their camps growing up.”
One camp memory stands out for when Stelter knew Wilkins was the coach she wanted to play for.
“A memory I have with (Paula) was from when I was 10 or 11,” Stelter said. “She told me she was never going to go easy on me in a drill. That was a big moment when I realized that I really liked her as a coach and wanted to spend more time playing for her.”
Stelter scored 33 goals and had 10 assists in her freshman season as an L-Cat in 2019, earning Capitol Conference Player of the Year accolades. She has also played for FC Wisconsin in Milwaukee for the last six or seven years.
“This is a dream she’s been working towards for a long time. For it finally to be out and announced has to be a dream come true,” Lake Mills girls soccer coach Jeff Hegstrom said. “She’s been working incredibly hard for this as far as I remember back to fifth or sixth grade, pushing herself and having this goal in the back of her mind. She caught the attention of a dozen Division 1 schools. It’s going to be a great marriage between Ava and UW-Madison. She is going to play a key part in their success.”
The Badgers went 16-4-2 in 2019 and won the Big 10 title, advancing to the Sweet 16 in consecutive years for the first time in school history.
Stelter, who had right ACL surgery on Nov. 26, 2019, has been rehabbing in Lake Mills and Madison. She will be back practicing in the coming months with FC Wisconsin. Eventually, the coaching staff at UW and Stelter will make a decision whether she will participate in the 2021 girls soccer season.
Hegstrom noted Stelter’s touch and shot strength have looked impressive at the teams recent contact days.
“There’s a lot that goes into Ava Stelter as a player from tactical skills to strength. Those things are elite,” Hegstrom said. “What stands out to me is the intangibles of work ethic, drive and leadership. Those stand out when I watch her play and just as a student-athlete. She’s an exceptional person and great leader. She made a great leap in developing her leadership as a captain two years ago. Intangibles are what makes her her.
“She raises everyone else’s game around her really unintentionally. She raises the level of commitment and focus from her teammates and coaches. She has a way of getting the best out of those around her. That’s pretty special.”
Stelter started communicating with the UW staff when she was 14. Due to NCAA guidelines, the sides could sometimes talk via phone or text and at other times no contact be had. Stelter often had to initiate the dialogue to avoid breaking the rules.
“We weren’t able to talk much about it because of my age,” Stelter said. “We have a strong relationship since I’ve been around for so long. The recruiting process started early. That’s why I liked going to the camps.”
In two years, Stelter will officially join the program she grew up watching in awe of.
“I remember being really little and going up and watching those games,” she said. “I was in awe of the players and I loved how they played. I like the coaching staff and how they coach. I attended camps where we mimicked what they do on a given day. I’ve grown to love it even more, the culture they have developed.”