Bjornethun and Verdoia to Become Latest Seattle U Hall of Fame Inductees

Since returning to the Division I level, Seattle University’s soccer program has been a perennial force in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). Two players set the standard for the program in the early 2010’s. Kyle Bjornethun and Stephanie Verdoia, will be inducted into Seattle U’s Hall of Fame Feb. 10.

Both players joined their respective squads at pivotal moments for Seattle U soccer.

Hailing from Salt Lake City, Verdoia didn’t have Seattle on her radar for college until she connected with Seattle U through recruiting in 2011. The women’s program had just reclassified to Division I and head coach Julie Woodward was looking to establish a team identity.

“The first day she showed up we knew she was special,” Woodward said of Verdoia. “Her ability to recognize that she could always improve and that she actually wanted to is what made her special.”

Verdoia’s freshman season was rough before moving to a true striker role as a sophomore, leading the team with 10 goals and a single assist. The Redhawks needed Verdoia to create for others. Woodward and her staff met with Verdoia that offseason, challenging her to open the game up for her teammates.

Verdoia, ever the optimizer, went to work.

“I remember walking away from that meeting really wanting to work on that [creating chances] over the winter,” Verdoia said.

This detail-oriented approach took the Redhawks from a .500 winning percentage in 2012 to their first WAC Tournament title in 2013. Verdoia scored 15 goals and added 12 assists as the Redhawks became an offensive juggernaut.

In her fourth-year campaign, Verdoia scored 22 goals and tallied 13 assists as Seattle U punched another ticket to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament. By the conclusion of the season, she stood alone as Seattle U’s all-time goal and assist leader.

Verdoia’s play earned her attention from the Boston Breakers of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), as she became the first female athlete to ever be drafted by a professional club in Seattle U’s history.

Bjornethun, a local from Snohomish, came into the men’s program as a highly touted prospect in 2013. The team had hit a rough point since moving to Division I, tallying just 14 wins in their previous 69 games over four seasons. The Redhawks needed a spark.

When Bjornethun, still a prospect, and Head Coach Pete Fewing met in Seattle for the first time, Fewing established Bjornethun as a centerpiece of his vision for the team.

“We got him early in my time, and I just knew,” Fewing said. “I told him, ‘We are going to build this program around you.’”

The prospect of a freshman starting at center-back, as Bjornethun soon would, can be overwhelming. But when Fewing saw the poise the first-year possessed, he knew it wouldn’t be a problem. 

“Coach Pete gave me that confidence,” Bjornethun said. “I don’t think I was the most talented, but I put in the work.”

That work paid dividends. Bjornethun went from being “burned” at his first practice in Seattle, to winning WAC Freshman of the Year in 2013. The Redhawks would win the WAC that season and secure an NCAA Tournament win over Creighton in the first round as well.

Bjornethun only got better in the following seasons. He earned All-WAC selections in each of his final three seasons and WAC Defensive Player of the Year awards in each of his final two seasons wearing the captain’s armband for Seattle U. Behind Bjornethun’s leadership, the program had further established themselves as a force in conference play, taking home another WAC title and being seeded as high as 11th in the NCAA tournament.

Through all those achievements, Bjornethun prioritized cultivating an identity off the field. He rarely wore athletic gear in the opening weeks of quarters, so his peers knew him as a student first.

“Every winning team needs a Kyle Bjornethun,” Fewing said. “He’s the perfect example of what a student athlete should be.”

Off the field, Bjornethun and Verdoia excelled academically. Bjornethun, an engineering major, had to put his degree on hold when he was drafted into the MLS by the Seattle Sounders in 2017. He returned to Seattle U to finish his studies and graduated in 2021. It was demonstrative of Bjornethun’s personality, as an athlete who prioritized his studies.

“They’re such formative years when you’re in college. You’re really figuring out who you are as a person,” Bjornethun said. “The education and Seattle in general really set me up to be the person I am today.”

Verdoia, a political science major, was the 2014 Capital One Academic All-America of the Year, finishing her collegiate career as one of the most prolific student athletes in school history. Verdoia would finish her degree while starting her career in the NWSL and she later graduated from the University of Washington School of Law in 2021.

“It affirms everything I knew when I was there, in terms of how the Seattle U community cares about people that have spent time there,” Verdoia said of her Hall of Fame induction.

Bjornethun and Verdoia will be honored at the 36th Annual Seattle U Alumni Awards, Feb. 10 in the Pigott Building at 5 p.m..