Taking the lead: Evelyne Viens levels the playing field for ambitious women

Throughout her soccer career, Evelyne Viens has learned the importance of being a pioneer both on and off the field, using her voice and not being afraid to be herself in order to achieve success. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/GOUSFBULLS

                  This story is part of a continuing series that features women leaders at USF during Women’s History Month.

When Evelyne Viens first arrived at USF, she didn’t speak a word of English, but after four years in the university’s soccer program and playing professionally around the world, she feels she has finally found her voice.

To Viens, a class of 2019 alumna and breaker of 18 American Athletic Conference and USF women’s soccer program records combined, not being afraid to strive for success is her most important value. In both her current career playing as a forward for Sky Blue FC and in her personal life, she said being a pioneer was pivotal.

“I think that many people just follow the path [defined for them] and I think you just need to define who you are,” Viens said. “It’s all about using your voice and instead of following people, being a leader in your field.”

At the beginning of Viens’ collegiate soccer career in 2017, finding her voice was difficult in more ways than one. She grew up in Quebec, Canada, so prior to attending college, she only spoke French.

“When I got to USF, I could hardly build a sentence [in English],” she said. “It is hard to build chemistry [with people] when you cannot talk, it is hard for people to know who you are as a person. I think I was able to prove myself and help the team, but you want people to know who you are as a person too.”

She said during her first month at USF she didn’t speak the language at all but, as she began to pick up more English, she started to make friends. Her closest friend, former roommate and fellow teammate Aubrey Megrath eventually helped her learn English and they became best friends in the process.

“Evelyne, along with many other internationals, dealt with many obstacles that most didn’t see,” Megrath said.

“Being her best friend in college, I got to watch her grow not only as a soccer player but a person. She came here speaking no English and learned it in like a month. It took a little while to get her out of her shell, but once we did she was amazing. She was never afraid to look stupid. Failing was just part of her process.”

Once she grew comfortable with the team and overcame the language barrier, Viens rapidly became a leader, according to Denise Schilte-Brown, head coach of the USF women’s soccer team.

“She was always competitive and always working hard, but by her senior year, she kind of put the team on her shoulders and was willing to accept the responsibility of whether they were going to win or not,” she said.

One of the ways Viens showed off her leadership prowess, according to Schilte-Brown, was during her junior and senior years when she was able to mentor other players. Schilte-Brown said Viens was always there to lift younger players up and help them succeed.

“She had the ability to put her arm around a player that was young that was starting and say, ‘Hey, it’s OK, you’ll get there, tomorrow’s another day,’” Schilte-Brown said. “She was also empathetic and had the ability to understand where they were coming from. She didn’t have the elitist perspective because she is so talented. She is a kind human being.”

Lifting other people up is part of being a “strong, independent woman,” according to Viens. She said she aims to embody this archetype by pushing herself to be the best she can be in her personal and professional life.

She completed this goal by scoring 73 of them over the course of her four years as a forward for the USF soccer team as well as toppling 18 different program and conference records, scoring the most single season game-winning goals (10), making the most single-season points (53) and taking the most single-season shots (113).

Despite her personal success, Viens said all her achievements can be attributed to the entire team as they helped her grow and reach new milestones.

“It’s never about me,” she said. “It is always about the team.”

Viens said her biggest takeaway from her time in the USF soccer program is the importance of putting herself out there and not shying away from challenges, even if they are outside of her comfort zone.

“We have to do a ceremony with every athlete that graduates at the same time and they asked me to do a speech, and I did, but four years [earlier] I just knew I would have never spoken in front of people while being comfortable to say what I wanted, and to say it with confidence,” she said.

“I was one of the only athletes to leave my hometown, most people don’t think much of that, but I was one of the only ones who actually decided to do that. So for me, that just shows that you have to get out of your comfort zone to try new things, and good things will happen and you’re going to learn and figure it out.”

After graduation, Viens was taken fifth overall by Sky Blue in the 2020 National Women’s Soccer League draft, a professional women’s soccer club based in New York and New Jersey. Quickly after she began playing for Sky Blue, she went on loan to France to play for Paris FC until March 13, when the season ended. In February, she was chosen for the Canadian women’s national team and played in the 2021 SheBelieves Cup.

With all of the changes and moving around, Viens has had to learn to adapt to new situations and meet new people, which was difficult for her at times despite her sociable nature. She said the keys to adapting to changes and new teams is to get to know her teammates and to be herself in return.

“You need to learn who you’re dealing with [and] what you can bring. After a time when I get more comfortable, I can just be myself and be confident,” she said.

“I just know I perform better with a team that I feel good with, the people I’m around, so I like to know them. It’s more than just passing the ball around and scoring goals. I want to know how we can connect and be really good together.”

Megrath said Viens’ adaptability furthers her career as it allows her to pursue opportunities and overcome obstacles in a way others can’t.

“Evelyne sees the bigger picture in things. She knows that there is a process to everything. Her having such a competitive personality will get her so far,” Megrath said. “She looks at everything as a growing opportunity and takes it head on.”

One of the obstacles Viens faced most recently was contracting coronavirus last year. However, according to Schilte-Brown, she didn’t let it prohibit her from developing her skills.

“She had COVID but she was still doing extra, even though she was confined to her apartment,” she said. “She obviously couldn’t go to the gym, so she was doing body workouts and getting touches on the ball in her apartment.”

The SheBelieves Cup finished Feb. 24, with Canada beating Argentina but losing to the U.S. and Brazil. Now, Viens is hard at work developing her skills with Sky Blue in preparation for any opportunities to come her way in future seasons.

“I need to work on so much stuff and now, being back in the United States, I want to make my spot and showcase what I can give in this league,” she said. “My goals are all about development as of right now.”

Viens is adamant that other women follow her lead and be vocal about aspirations in their own fields.

“As women we need to know that we have power and we need to use it,” Viens said. “I think that using our voice is so important. We need to say what we want to say and show the world we can achieve as much as we want.”