Staff photo by Robin Rudd / Chattanooga FC's Anna Lanter prepares to kick the ball during a May 2017 match at Finley Stadium. Lanter, a former Soddy-Daisy and Lee University standout, played for the Chattanooga Lady Red Wolves in recent seasons but is back with CFC as its women's team returns after a three-year absence.

In an alternate universe, Anna Lanter would not have the opportunity to play professional soccer this year.

A former Soddy-Daisy standout who just completed her eligibility at Lee University, Lanter recently took a position as a graduate assistant at her college alma mater. However, that meant that she and current Lady Flames defender Kate Dirkse could not play for the same team because of NCAA rules regarding extra coaching.

Lanter, who has played for the Chattanooga Lady Red Wolves in recent seasons, gave Dirkse the choice as to which pro team she wanted to join because she's still an active college player. Dirkse chose the Lady Red Wolves, giving Lanter a chance to play with the Chattanooga Football Club and taking her back to the club she competed with before CFC's women's team disbanded after the 2018 season.

In doing so, Lanter became the club's first signee as CFC reboots its program in the Women's Premier Soccer League, starting with Sunday's 6 p.m. Eastern match against the Nashville Rhythm at Father Ryan High School. After that is another road matchup at Alabama FC next Friday, with CFC's home opener against North Alabama at 7:30 on June 4 at Finley Stadium.

"I'm very appreciative that there is another club that I could play for, because I was at the point where I was going to be able to play soccer for another year, at least until next summer, because I wasn't going to travel to Knoxville or Nashville," Lanter said this past week. "So when CFC said they had another team, I was thrilled."

There's not a lot of love lost between the two Chattanooga men's teams, but that's likely not going to be the case on the women's side.

In fact, Lady Red Wolves general manager Gretchen Hammel and head coach Luke Winter — both of them former CFC players — have fully supported Lanter's decision, which wasn't easy because the family name is synonymous with soccer in the city. Her sister Summer Hernandez is a veteran of both CFC and the Lady Red Wolves; Summer's husband Juan is a member of the CFC men's club while also being a coach for its youth academy. Plus there's Dirkse, who was her teammate at Lee, which completed the regular season and Gulf South Conference tournament undefeated this past fall.

"Chattanooga needs a bigger presence in the women's game, because we all have the talent. We just haven't been able to broadcast that the way we really should," Lanter said. "Before in women's soccer, you didn't have a choice — you had to play for the Red Wolves. Now there's another opportunity."

And it's an opportunity Lanter is fully invested in, specifically for the future. When she was younger, she would travel to Knoxville three days a week for training, but with multiple teams in Chattanooga, multiple opportunities for players to be developed now exist right in town.

"If there's a women's team, I want younger players to know that they can train with us because we're good players," she said. "I want that for them.

"I started playing for CFC when I was 16, and that 100% made me a better college soccer player because I was used to the level of play, the intensity, everything. I was fortunate enough to have a WPSL team in my hometown."

Contact Gene Henley at Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.


All times Eastern

May 22 — at Nashville Rhythm, 6 p.m.

May 27 — at Alabama FC, 7:30 p.m.

June 4 — vs. North Alabama FC, 7:30 p.m.

June 11 — vs. Alabama FC, 4:30 p.m.

June 15 — vs. Tennessee Force, 7 p.m.

June 24 — vs. Nashville Rhythm, 7 p.m.

June 26 — at Tennessee Force, 3 p.m.

July 2 — at North Alabama FC, 7:30 p.m.

July 8 — Conference semifinals

July 10 — Conference final