Stephanie Soares owns one of the more fascinating stories of the 2023 WNBA Draft class.
Soares, who is from Sao Paulo, Brazil, played at an NAIA school, The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, California, for three seasons before exposing herself to the national spotlight by transferring to Iowa State this past season.
She didn’t go to the NAIA because she was under the radar; she was the No. 53 HoopGurlz recruit in 2018. On The Master’s’ athletic website, she is quoted as saying:
(I wanted to play) for a team and coach that honor God. As a Christian, I know that God is the most important person in my life and having a relationship with Him is essential in life. My desire is to play basketball, grow in my faith by increasing my Bible knowledge and earn a college degree.
It’s admirable that Soares followed her faith, and she had quite the career at The Master’s, a school that her father and two of her siblings also played basketball at.
Soares was homeschooled, but played basketball for Mount Baker High School in Deming, Washington, where she won a Class 1A state title in 2017. She then became an NAIA First Team All-American right off the bat as a freshman at The Master’s. She was first in the entire NAIA in both rebounding (13.4 boards per game) and blocks (4.9).
As a sophomore, Soares again led the NAIA in rebounding and blocks with similar numbers (13.6 and 4.9). Her scoring average improved from 16.2 to 20.7 and her field goal percentage improved from 57.2 to 61.5. She had a 12-block game and six instances of 80-plus percent shooting. For her efforts, she was named NAIA Player of the Year.
After missing the following season (2020-21) with a knee injury, Soares was again crowned NAIA Player of the Year in 2021-22. She averaged 20.5 points per game at a 58.4 percent shooting clip, dropped a career-high 36 points in a game and went 12-of-12 from the field in another.
The next part of Soares’ story is more well-known. She went to Iowa State for the 2022-23 season and had everyone, including Rebecca Lobo, singing her praises.
She averaged 14.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and three blocks through 13 games before missing the rest of the season with a torn ACL. She missed all of 2020-21 and two-thirds of 2022-23 due to injury. It’s tempting to think of what could have been for Soares had she been healthy for the entirety of those seasons. Especially 2022-23. Imagine what else she could have accomplished at the Division I level!
But the small sample size of Division I action was enough to entice WNBA general managers, as Soares soared up mock drafts. She was projected to go fourth by ESPN and that is indeed where she was selected by the Washington Mystics. The Mystics then traded her to the Dallas Wings on draft night. Now Soares has an opportunity to be an impact player in the WNBA, though she will likely miss all of 2023 as she continues to recover from her ACL tear.
Soares showed that you can follow a passion other than basketball and play in the NAIA before going D1 and still make it to the WNBA. Her story is inspiring, and we can’t wait to see her play in the WNBA.