MONMOUTH, ILLINOIS (February 23, 2024) — Madison Walker played her last women's soccer match for Monmouth College on Oct. 24, finishing as the Fighting Scots' eighth-leading career goal scorer with 25.

The senior from Vernon Hills, Illinois, who lost a year with the Scots to COVID, might cash in that extra NCAA eligibility in graduate school, but, in the meantime, she's sharpening her skills during a study-abroad semester at the University of Stirling in Scotland.

And her team isn't just a collegiate one. Stirling also plays in the second tier of the Scottish Women's Premier League.

Quality competition

"The quality of competition in the SWPL2 is very strong," said Walker, a two-time All-Midwest Conference selection at Monmouth. "Many of the teams are made up of players on professional contracts, since almost all of the teams are not connected to a university the way that Stirling is."

During her senior season with the Scots, Monmouth competed against tough Division III foes such as Millikin and Grinnell. In Scotland, the leaders of the SWPL2 pack are Queen's Park and Kilmarnock.

"The players and teams have a higher level of technical and tactical understanding of the game compared to any teams I have played for or against in the US," said Walker. "I had a strong fall season with the Scots [scoring nine goals], and I'm excited for the opportunity to take my game up to the next level."

Should she decide to stay involved with soccer, the psychology major said her experience playing in Scotland has planted some seeds.

"Playing in Scotland has provided me with the opportunity to continue playing and given me insight into future opportunities for women in football," said Walker. "For example, the captain of my team is also my sports psychology professor, who has continued her football career while teaching."

In addition to the professional league, Stirling also competes in the North Division of the British Universities and Colleges Sport.

"The SWPL is the highest level of league competition in women's soccer in Scotland, and the teams can sign any player," said Walker, who was named the MWC's Newcomer of the Year in 2021. "BUCS is the league for higher education sport in the UK, and only players enrolled in the university or college can compete for the team."

Built-in travel opportunities

Traveling for away matches in the North Division is roughly the same as what Monmouth experiences in the MWC, with six hours being the farthest trip.

"We also compete in national cups where we compete against universities in the BUCS South Division," said Walker. "Last week, in the first round of the women's national championship cup, we traveled six hours into England to play against Hartpury University. We won two-to-one in extra time after 120 minutes. We return to England next week for the next round of the national cup at Durham University."

Her SWPL2 are all in Scotland, with road trips ranging from one to seven hours.

Walker has seen many of Scotland's most impressive sites, whether on soccer road-trips or independent travel. Here, she's pictured at Stirling Castle

"Last weekend, we traveled an hour away to play against Kilmarnock," said Walker. "Fun fact: Kilmarnock's stadium was first used in 1899."

In a typical week, Walker and her Stirling teammates are on the field to train for three hours, in the high-performance suite for strength and conditioning as a team for 2.5 hours, and in a lecture hall for film analysis for an hour, in addition to playing two games per week.

As is the case in the United States, winter is just winding down in Scotland, and that's led to some very challenging conditions for practices and games.

"Not only is Scotland cold, it is very rainy," said Walker. "We train in the evenings, which has led to many chilly and rainy practices. As our goalkeeper coach says, though, 'If Scotland wasn't rainy, everyone would stay in Scotland.' I wasn't expecting to play outdoors, so I had to stock up on outdoor soccer gear once I realized how cold it is during practice and games. One of our SWPL games even had to be rescheduled due to ice in the goal box."

Soccer, and so much more

The soccer has been a surprising bonus to a trip that Walker was already anticipating.

"I have always wanted to study abroad while in college and travel to the United Kingdom," she said. "Attending Monmouth College's sister school was the perfect opportunity to do that. So far, my experience has been amazing. I've explored the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and I've traveled to Montrose, Perth, and Gloucester to play in soccer stadiums."

Although she's a veteran soccer player, Walker is also making sure to try new things.

"I've tried haggis and learned traditional Scottish dances at the Robert Burns night," she said. "I've also seen amazing views of the city and landscapes of Stirling when I climbed Dumyat Hill and toured the Stirling Castle, which is very close to my flat in the Stirling city centre. The community of Stirling has been very welcoming, and I would encourage everyone to take this opportunity in Scotland."

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