FEATURE: Wenger Looks to Carry Family Legacy

Andrew Wenger could tell his sister was tough from an early age.

“One time she was playing goalie when she was younger, very young, and she turned and the ball went out of bounds and she banged into the post,” Andrew Wenger, brother to women’s soccer junior defender Liz Wenger, said. “She ended up needing to go get stitches, but she got up and was ready to play again. She was concerned the ball went in the net.”

Another story that Andrew Wenger, who now plays for Houston Dynamo in the MLS, recalls involves his sister initially just shaking off a broken elbow after a failed jump off the swings.

But in meeting the junior defender, the most immediately noticeable thing is not her toughness, but her personality: She is quick to show a wide, boundless smile, a touch of self-deprecation and constant encouragement to teammates.

The Wenger family history of athleticism reads like a laundry list. The Wengers’ mother played field hockey at Duke, and their dad was a three-sport high school athlete who only gave up sports to study landscape architecture at Penn State.  Another brother, Jonathan,  played soccer at Elon, and Andrew Wenger won the 2011 Hermann Trophy at Duke before the Montreal Impact selected him as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft.

A veritable renaissance woman before arriving on the Hilltop, Liz Wenger danced tap, jazz and ballet through middle school and earned her Gold Award in Girl Scouts her senior year at Warwick High School in Lititz, Pa.

“All three of us [siblings] were all doing different things,” Liz Wenger said. “Andrew was very involved in soccer nationally with his club. Jonathan and I tended to do more different activities. We were both involved in Scouts, he played lacrosse for a while and I danced, did gymnastics at one point, did field hockey and swam.”

When the Eastern Pennsylvania high school soccer season moved to the fall in conflict with the field hockey season, Liz Wenger chose to captain her Warwick High School field hockey team for her junior and senior seasons and only play soccer with her local club team, PA Classics.

“Soccer was always my number one, my first love,” Liz Wenger said. “With field hockey, I think the environment at my high school, the coach I had, the teammates I had, fed into my decision to keep playing field hockey. But if we’re talking sport to sport, soccer was definitely number one for me.”

From freshman year on, Liz Wenger played under Coach Mark Pulisic, father of USMNT breakout star Christian Pulisic, on PA Classics.

“His coaching style and [Georgetown Head Coach] Dave [Nolan]’s coaching style are very similar, so the transition here coaching-wise wasn’t too extreme,” Liz Wenger said. “It’s very much possession. … They were focused on playing good soccer, fostering good technique. Playing under Mark was always fun. He always had a joke to crack, always making fun of someone but in a lighthearted manner that you couldn’t take too seriously.”

Wegner’s path to Georgetown began in 2012 when PA Classics took on a Bethesda team coached by Nolan, who noticed the tall blonde defender stopping his team’s every attack and whom college coaches had not yet discovered.

Cancelling a December trip to Alabama to see the Georgetown men’s team take on Maryland in the final four of the College Cup, Nolan instead braved the York, Penn. cold to watch Liz Wenger dominate a local tournament, what Nolan called the Early Amish Classic.

“It’s miserable, it’s freezing, there’s snow coming in sideways,” Nolan said. “And I’m the only college coach there. And I’m thinking, either I’m an idiot, that everyone else has seen nothing in this kid, or I’m a genius, I’ve seen something in this kid and no one else has. And she did really well.”

Liz Wenger has started nearly every game since the beginning of her freshman year as a Hoya, earning All-Big East Rookie and Second Team selections over the past two seasons as part of a defense that recorded 11, five and nine shutouts so far this season.

Nolan considers her partnership with graduate student defender Marina Paul in central defense the best he has overseen since arriving at Georgetown in 1999, as Paul’s aerial ability and experience mesh well with Wenger’s pace and tackling ability.

“[Liz Wenger] is probably the fastest defender in the conference, and certainly my own opinion is that she’s the best defender in the conference,” Nolan said. “So that helps a lot when you have that kind of pace. … But she’s more than pace. She reads the game really well, she’s a great one-on-one defender and she’s very dogged in the tackle.”

Early in the season, with Paul not in the lineup, Liz Wenger found herself needing to step in as the vocal leader of the defense; Andrew Wenger has seen a similar transformation taking place off the field.

“Personally, my sister has grown up and found her voice a little bit,” Andrew Wenger said. “Growing up I’d say my brother and I were always a bit louder and more assertive, but now she’s both sticking up for what she believes in and making that belief known, which is pretty fantastic.”

After graduation in 2018, Liz Wenger can see herself following in the path of recent graduates Daphne Corboz and Sarah Adams in playing abroad; she does not want to limit her job search to whatever falls under the umbrella of her management major and is looking at any and every option.

“Before I came to Georgetown, I never really considered playing professionally,” Liz Wenger said. “I’m definitely going to keep that option open, I’m open to it. I think for me it just depends on what shakes out in the next year, professionally. God willing I’m healthy coming out of next season and I really do have a chance to look abroad.”

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