Clark’s McMahon following in her mom’s footsteps

Three seasons after mother played soccer for Penguins, daughter also on team

By Meg Wochnick, Columbian staff writer

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Nikki McEllrath, defender on 2014 Clark soccer team. (Clark College photo)

Clark College freshman defender Bailee McMahon is quickly adjusting to collegiate soccer life, playing in all six of the Penguins’ games off the bench for the reigning Northwest Athletic Conference South Region champions.

Ask the Mountain View High graduate about her favorite Clark player, and she’ll share details of how her mother, Nikki McEllrath, who at age 35 in 2014, played for Clark’s women’s soccer team as a full-time student in the midst of a career change while working 40 hours a week, being a wife, mother of three, step-mom of one, and still finding any free moments to study.

“She’s been so inspiring,” McMahon said. “She’s a go-getter.”

First mother, now daughter for the Penguins on the pitch just three seasons apart. It’s a first for coach Sean Janson, now in his fourth season coaching Clark women’s soccer.

Three years ago when McMahon took a season off from high school soccer, it was mom who was back in uniform for the first time since 1997, her high school senior year at Evergreen.

At 35 in Clark’s 2014 season, McEllrath undoubtedly was the eldest member of Janson’s first recruiting class. She also was 12 years older than his assistant coach, Kat Tarr.

“It was really good to have her on the team because she had that different perspective; they saw what she did to be a part of the team,” Janson said. “She made their complaints look like nothing.”

That first season as Clark’s head women’s coach following seven seasons as its men’s assistant, Janson just needed bodies to round out his roster and turned to McEllrath, an ex-high school classmate, on social media.

Back in the mid-1990s, Nikki Hutcheson was an all-league standout at Evergreen. Her plans to play soccer for then-NAIA Central Washington University ended when she became pregnant with Bailee, but still remained active in the area indoor and outdoor soccer leagues when Janson inquired.

The stars began to align as McEllrath sought a career change as an EMT and firefighter. Clark offers an EMT certificate program.

It was a win-win: Janson was accommodating with McEllrath’s work, class and life schedule, and the new breed of soccer mom was a starting defender as Clark went 7-8-6 that season and reached the first round of the NWAC Championships.

McEllrath still cherishes the fun memories of her one season at Clark. She wasn’t trying to recapture her youth, and called the chance of playing college soccer again “totally unexpected.”

To this day, she said she feels honored and grateful by Janson reaching out. She lived out her unfinished athletic dream.

“At that point, I felt like that opportunity had passed me by (in my life),” said McEllrath, now 38 and a volunteer EMT and firefighter at two area districts. “I had accepted it. Then, all of a sudden, this opportunity.”

Janson said that’s one of the teams he’s most proud of because it wasn’t filled with all-stars, yet it helped pave the way for what the program is today.

Last season, Clark won its first NWAC women’s soccer regional title, and while McMahon is one of 13 freshmen on the 21-player roster, expectations are even higher. The Penguins are 4-2 overall heading into Wednesday’s 2 p.m. home game against Southwestern Oregon.

McMahon points to a number of similarities in style of play between her and her mother. Both were defenders in high school. Bailey was a three-year varsity player at Mountain View, including a first-team all-3A Greater St. Helens League honoree in 2016.

Janson said her speed, communication level and technical skills will make McMahon a key contributor for the Penguins.

Communication, in fact, is one of those similarities McMahon said she has in common with her mom. Even if she’s on the sideline now.

“I get that from her,” she said. “I can be anywhere on the field and hear her voice.”