Worth The Wait: Lauren Featherstone on redshirting her first year at CCSU

Imagine this: you’ve been heavily recruited by a school, decided it’s where you want to go, you’re all set to head there and start playing college soccer, and then suddenly – not so fast. Well, that’s what happened to Lauren Featherstone as she prepared to make the move from southwest Sydney to Central Connecticut State University, with the freshman falling foul of the NCAA’s academic rules for incoming freshmen. Whilst she could still head over, she wouldn’t be playing that first season.

“Basically, I didn’t have enough academic credits,” Featherstone explains. “I didn’t do the right subjects, and I also dropped one of my classes in Year 12. I really didn’t realise about the college credits, which didn’t help my case. I basically didn’t do the right subjects.”

“It was around signing day in 2017 that I found out that was going to happen, so it was pretty late in the process. I had been talking to CCSU for about 10 months before that. It was an every week thing. I had to send them transcripts, then they’d ask for something I’d have to send to the NCAA or something, so it was pretty late.”

However, Featherstone’s journey to college started much earlier, as many of her teammates at Westfields Sports High School started heading over, piquing the midfielder’s interest.

“I’d say about Year 9 I heard about it, and then ever since then I was interested in it,” Featherstone reveals. “It was actually pretty early on during high school, because the older girls, like (former Colorado and Troy defender) Alex Huynh, they were there and they were going to college and ever since then it’s been like, a dream of mine to go to college.”

So how does a player who has been interested in college for so long end up being forced to sit out her freshman season due to academic ineligibility?

“I think the problem with me was that I was kind of naïve,” the Macarthur Rams product revealed. “I thought it would be fine, I didn’t really look into it, or think it was that much of a process.”

Although she would not be able to play in 2017, Featherstone maintained a positive mindset. Secure in the fact that Central Connecticut State had gone all-out to secure her signature, the midfielder came in knowing that even though she couldn’t impact games in her first season, she would be able to make her mark on the field in the long-term. Featherstone also had someone with plenty of experience in her corner: former Matildas midfielder and conference player of the year at CCSU Leah Blayney, who now coaches at Westfields Sports High as well as in the Matildas setup, helped kickstart the process for Featherstone.

“So, Leah helped me a lot in the recruiting process, she said that she had these three schools for me that said that they have full scholarships. It was Fairleigh Dickinson, William & Mary, and Central Connecticut State,” Featherstone revealed.

“I was emailing all three of them at first.  I sent them each a highlights video and a player resume which is like a timeline of all my achievements.”

All three schools have pre-existing links to Australia. Defender Sam Roff is a rock at the heart of defence for Fairleigh Dickinson, whilst Lorena Bugden was part of William & Mary’s freshman class last season and current UMBC head coach Vanessa Mann was an assistant for the Tribe until last season. But the women’s soccer program at Central Connecticut State almost resembles an Australian embassy, with Blayney and Featherstone just two of a handful of Aussies to feature for the Blue Devils in recent seasons, including Sydney FC W-League winning goalkeeper Nikola Deiter, who started for the Sky Blues’ title-winning team in 2009 even before heading over to college.

“Leah told me about the others, and that they definitely love their Aussies over there,” Featherstone explained.

“it’s a great place for us over there, they’re really accepting. They were definitely very keen. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to go to Central, they were very keen on me.

“Pretty early on I decided on Central. They really stood out to me, the coach seemed like he really wanted me. We did a lot of Skyping, and he showed me around the school, he just made everything really clear, and pretty early on I knew I wanted to go there.”

However, it hardly matters how much a coach wants a player to play and how much a player wants to play for the team once the NCAA gets involved. Despite this, CCSU coach Mick D’Arcy did everything he could to ensure Featherstone would get to school as soon as possible, and once she was there, the team’s newest Australian took it all her in her stride.

My coach, he really fought the NCAA on the case. He said ‘we’ll take her and she can just redshirt for the first semester’, so it was an official redshirt. I wasn’t allowed to practice, wasn’t allowed to travel, I had to stay on campus when they travelled and everything. So it was just a whole lot of sidelining for that first semester, and next semester I was back into it.

“To be honest, I didn’t really have any concerns because I knew it would happen wherever I went. It’s just credits, it’s not Central’s fault or anything,” Featherstone states philosophically. “They told me they had a lot of stuff I could do still, like I still did workouts. Even though I wasn’t allowed to practice with the team, I could still lift. So it wasn’t like I was just sitting there studying, I was still doing a lot.”

Whilst she may have been doing a lot of training, Featherstone couldn’t do any of it with the team, either on or off the field. Rather than lament the situation, the freshman chose to see the positives that she could take from redshirting.

“At first it was tough, but then I enjoyed it. I was there by myself, but I was still getting the workout in,” says Featherstone.

“I really felt like when I got back into training like my strength got up, like I had more endurance, I feel like it prepared me.”

Lauren (#12) with a pair of CCSU teammates

For all that preparation though, Featherstone still had to come back into the team with a group of players who had no doubt heard about how good their new player might be, and that she’d been training hard by herself, but to whom she had yet to prove herself. It didn’t take long for the Australian to settle into the team dynamic.

“It was quite challenging at first, because they all knew me and I felt like there was a lot of anticipation to see how good I really was, and if I was as good as the coaches said,” Featherstone reveals. “But they were all very welcoming. They’re a great group of girls; I felt at home from my very first practice. The nerves were there but I felt at home.”

Whilst the playing group may have been welcoming, impressing the coaching staff can often be a completely different case. Clearly, Featherstone has the class that the coach saw when recruiting her in previous years, as shown by what the midfielder has been told during spring practice.

“Basically, they said that the midfield role is going to be my role. They did try me out at right back, so they know I can do that as well. But for this season I think I fit in pretty well in midfield, at the 6 or 8,” Featherstone revealed.

“The 8 role is probably my favourite. I can play the 10 as well, but we’ve got a really great 10 at the moment, she does a really good job there. But I said to the coach I think I’d work well in the midfield in that team, because I understand the playmaker role, distributing from defence to forward.”

They did say that I have a good chance of getting that starting role when the season comes around, but it’s obviously not just going to be given to me, I have to work for it.

“From the start of spring semester to the end we did weekly fitness tests, and I did really well. They basically said ‘you’re doing well, just keep doing that,’ and that’s basically what I have to do, keep maintaining the improvement and I’ll be in there.”

Featherstone appears to have come into the team at the perfect time. Having finished 6-2 in conference play last season and reached the conference semi-finals, and with only a small number of players graduating earlier this year, CCSU are primed for a run at the conference championship this season, and the entire team is motivated, Featherstone included.

“The last spring semester, all the senior players said it’s the hardest spring semester they’ve ever had. So, I think the coach is really pushing us this year, and he’s really motivated all of us; we really want to win the NECs and get into the NCAA Tournament. I definitely think we’re very ready for the season that’s coming up.”

If they are to win the conference championship, the Blue Devils will have to get through two teams featuring Australians. Sam Roff’s Fairleigh Dickinson reached the championship game last season, but it was St. Francis University that got past them in the final to win the championship and ultimately reach the NCAA Tournament. That St. Francis team features Shelby Milton, not just another Aussie, but someone who Featherstone knows quite well, to say the least. Although Featherstone couldn’t travel to road games last season, the pair did get to see each other when St. Francis travelled to CCSU for the conference semi-final, where St. Francis picked up a 2-1 victory.

Shelby Milton and Lauren after the NEC Semi-Final in 2017

“Shelby is actually a really close family friend, and it’s funny because they’re our rivals. Luckily, that (semi-final) was at home so I got to see Shelby after the game. It was good to see another Aussie. It’ll definitely be a funny thing, because after the game, some of the girls barely look each other in the eye to say good game, but we’ll run up to each other and give each other a hug,” Featherstone explains. When asked if she wants to get revenge on Milton and SFU, she simply laughs and says “Yeah.”

Whilst academics and athletics combined get you that college scholarship, academics last much longer than athletics and Featherstone realises this, which was the basis for her decision to go to college as she looks to achieve her long-term goals both on and off the field.

“I knew what I wanted and I really wanted to go to Central. But I did really look at William & Mary in the early stages because of how well they do academically, as that’s really important to me as well,” Featherstone revealed.

“My grades in high school were kind of up and down; they weren’t really that great. I did have some trouble outside of school that affected my grades pretty early on, but they said ‘It wasn’t the easiest path for you throughout high school, but we’ve got this study hall specifically for athletes, we’ve got tutors, we’ve got advisors,’ and it’s been great. I’m best friends with all these advisors, I go in there every day, they help me with any issues I have, and they’ve been really helpful.

“One of the main reasons I wanted to go overseas is so I could play my sport and get the degree. I could’ve done it here, but it just meshes together over there. It’s a lifestyle. I think that’s one of the main reasons, to get my degree and achieve my goals in soccer as well.”

“Basically, my main goal is to get that degree, and get a good job set up, because soccer isn’t forever. I was majoring in exercise science the first two semesters. I really enjoyed all the science stuff, but I realised I didn’t want a job from that degree so I changed to sociology. I did some research into it before I switched, and I think I’d enjoy an advisor role or a human resources officer, something like that.”

“On-field, I think my long-term goals would be to make the Matildas, get recruited into the NWSL, and just enjoy my college, win some championships, win some rings if I can.”

Whatever the future may bring, Featherstone’s first year has provided her with the opportunity to provide some sage advice for players so that they can avoid winding up in the situation that she found herself in.

“Just do your preparation, do your research, talk to the colleges, ask them any questions, they’ll tell you everything. Just don’t be scared to ask questions. It’s definitely a long process, so it’s never too early to start preparing yourself for it.”

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The Road Less Travelled: Siobhan Longmore’s Journey To Lamar

How does a player from the coastal town of Busselton, Western Australia wind up in south-east Texas at Lamar University? If you’re Siobhan Longmore, it takes a long and winding road that detours through not one, but two junior colleges, and a little bit of guidance from your family. We caught up with Siobhan to find out more about the Dodge City Community College transfer’s journey to this point.

On the back of a glittering junior career that included state representation and a move from Busselton to Perth to continue her development, Siobhan Longmore has spent the past two seasons as an integral part of the Dodge City Community College women’s soccer team. (Yes, that’s Dodge City as in the term ‘get the hell out of Dodge.’) However, it wasn’t a truly smooth ride to get there in the first place as the Western Australian originally planned on playing at another school altogether.

“My sister, Ariana, was a freshman at Dodge City, and I was originally going to a school in Georgia called Georgia Military College. I got there, and it really just wasn’t what I expected and hoped it to be,” Longmore explained. “So the coach at Dodge City, Tim Romanello, took me in and I came here basically because my sister was here. She’s now graduated and she’s playing in California. So pretty much it’s because of my sister that I came here.”

Ariana’s presence at Dodge City may just have saved Siobhan’s career, because it wasn’t long before she was ready to leave Georgia and head back to Busselton, her college career over even before it started.

“I was going to come home three days into it; I hated it. It wasn’t what I was told it was going to be, so I was going to pack my bags and leave,” Longmore revealed. “But my family’s very supportive, they never want me to give up. My sister’s my biggest fan, I’m her biggest fan; she just said, ‘Nope, you’ve got to give it a chance.’ And I’m glad I did because I’ve made so many friends, and it’s just been amazing.”

But why attend a junior college in the first place? Longmore received interest from four year schools, but her sister’s guidance and the chance to play from the outset made the prospect of using her first two years in the US to set herself up for Division I all the more enticing.

“When I first got recruited, I got a lot of emails from four year schools. But my sister was at a community college, and she pretty much said ‘Listen, it’s going to set you up for a four-year, it’s going to give you the experience,’” Longmore explained. “For most incoming freshmen going to a four year university, it’s hard to get playing time. It was good at the community college, I mean, I played every game and I feel like it definitely has developed me to go to the next level.”

Longmore was certainly thrown in the deep end at Dodge City, though. A centre back throughout her junior years, then-Dodge City coach Tim Romanello had different plans for his newest player, moving Siobhan into a new position from the outset in what proved to be an inspired decision.

“He was an amazing coach, practices were different every day, I learnt so many new things. Honestly, I moved to America to play as a centre back, and the first day I got to America, he put me in as a centre midfielder, and I loved it,” Longmore explained. “I played centre midfield for the last two years, and it’s just developed my game. I’ve created so much more skill and strength and speed that I never had before, that I didn’t know I could have.”

“Over the last two years I’ve gained so much speed that I didn’t know I had. I’m not the best with foot skills, but I’ve got them there, and I have a very strong shot from the left side. I’m very competitive – if someone passes me, I’ll get mad about it and it’ll never happen again.”

“So now I’ve been recruited to play left defender (at Lamar), which is good because I’m left-footed and I love defence, and I also love attacking, which is what I can do in that position.”

However, the chance to play a certain position is never the be-all and end-all when it comes to recruiting, with many other factors coming into play. Hailing from a coastal town, Longmore craved a return to a beachside setting, but clearly there were other factors at play, including the opportunity to play for a team that coach Steve Holeman has turned from a 2 win team in 2016 to conference champions in 2017. However, it wasn’t Holeman who recruited Longmore, but one of his assistants.

“My whole recruiting process didn’t go through him, it went through the assistant coach Henry (Zapata), I knew the background and how (Holeman) has carried the team to be conference winners. I just think it’s amazing how you can turn around in one season. But my whole recruiting process went through Henry, and he was so good, and very open and honest about everything,” Longmore explained.

“We were talking for about a month and a half. I was going to go out and visit, but with school and stuff I couldn’t, and it got to the point where just after Christmas, I actually told him that Lamar probably won’t be a place for me.

“He came back, he offered me a full scholarship, and he pretty much made it sound like everything I wanted it to be. I have family in Texas, so at that point we took the drive up there, and I looked at the campus, and I absolutely loved it. I saw the soccer field, and I’m actually going up there in about three weeks to meet the team and watch them play one of their spring games, so I’m really excited.”

“When I came in as a sophomore, I said to everyone, ‘I am going somewhere on the beach, I don’t care where it is!’ I put it out there to schools in California and Florida, and, there was a school in Florida that I was going to go to, but Lamar came up and it was the best option for me.”

So what does the future hold for Lamar’s newest Australian? The junior certainly has big dreams, with one eye on entering the professional ranks following her two years at the top level of college soccer.

“I’m staying in America for the summer, so I’m going to be training hard, and after the two years, I know that this is big to say, but I really want to get picked up by the Houston Dash. I guess that’s kind of the dream, so I have to go hard from start to finish,” Longmore explains, slightly shyly.

“But you know, if I was to come home, I would hopefully try to get into the Perth Glory team. I’ve tried that before, but then I’ve developed so much as a player, like I didn’t even know I could develop that much. But I definitely want to continue soccer, I want to keep playing at the highest level I can.”

Interestingly, Siobhan will not be the only Australian junior college transfer to be playing in the Southland Conference, with Iowa Lakes Community College transfer Tessa Calabria joining fellow Australians Kristy Helmers and Tenille Harberger at Nicholls State. The pair even faced off in a junior college match last season, with both sides featuring a number of Australians.

“We actually have a photo together! We we played against them at the start of the season, and one of the other girls who plays on the Iowa team, I went to school with her and lived with her when I went to John Curtin College (in Perth). So it was kind of a big reunion there, and then we got together and there were four Australians on the team. I was like, ‘Let’s take a big photo of all the Australians!’. There’s another Australian on my team, my roommate, who’s also from Busselton, so we have a photo of about six of us, which was cool.”

Madeleine Duncan, Tessa Calabria, Sienna Scully (all Iowa Lakes CC), Siobhan Longmore, and Keeley Milner (both Dodge City CC)

“We’ve been in contact, we’ve been talking about it, and she told me that’s where she was going to go, and I said that’s awesome, we’re going to be playing against each other. I love playing against other Aussies, and even when I’m at basketball games and I see Australians on the other team’s roster, after the game I go up to them, I give them a hug, we have such good chats, it’s so cool.”

JUCO transfer Tessa Calabria becomes Nicholls’ third Aussie

The Australian contingent at Nicholls State has grown to three, with junior college transfer Tessa Calabria joining Kristy Helmers and Tenille Harberger in Thibodaux. A forward out of Adelaide, Calabria spent the past two seasons at Iowa Lakes Community College, helping the team to 15 wins during her stint with the program. A First Team All-Region selection in 2016, Calabria also received an All-Tournament Team selection following her performances in the 2016 NJCAA Region XI tournament, which included a hat-trick in a 5-0 quarter-final win over Dakota County Technical College.

Nicholls State struggled to score goals in conference play last season, an area in which Calabria excelled during her two seasons in junior college. The South Australian scored over 20 goals in her two seasons in Iowa, establishing herself as one of the Iowa Lakes side’s most potent attacking threats due to her ability in front of goal. Having scored just five goals in Southland Conference play and picking up only 3 wins in 11 games last season, the Colonels’ faithful will be hoping that potency can transfer to the Division I level, and in the process turn a couple of losses into draws or wins.

Calabria will no doubt be expected to shoulder at least part of the goalscoring load left by the graduating Emily Werenskiold, who was equal second-highest scorer on the team with three of the Colonels’ 16 goals in 2017. With fellow Australian Kristy Helmers now entering her junior year with the program, Nicholls State fans will surely be hoping that the new pair of Australian attacking players can form the same link that Helmers did with Colonels legend Jess Coates prior to Coates’ graduation following the 2016 season.

Calabria is the second JUCO transfer to join a Division I team this year, alongside Lamar’s Siobhan Longmore, who joined from Dodge City Community College in Kansas. The pair actually faced off last season, with both Calabria and Longmore tallying 3 shots and 2 shots on target in a game that Dodge City won 2-1. The pair will now face off at least once in each of the next two seasons, with both Nicholls State and Lamar playing in the Southland Conference.

Junior College transfer Siobhan Longmore links up with Lamar

Junior college transfer Siobhan Longmore has re-established the link between Australia and Lamar University, becoming the Cardinals’ first Australian since Danielle Pearce finished in 2013. Longmore also becomes the second Western Australian to make the move to Division I this year, with the Busselton product joining La Salle’s Alyssa Van Heurck in commencing her career at the top collegiate level in 2018. Versatile and athletic, Longmore has been earmarked as a defender for Lamar, but can play in a variety of positions, as shown by her goalscoring exploits in junior college.

Longmore spent the past two seasons playing for Dodge City Community College in Kansas, banging home 10 goals in 18 games in 2017 as well as tallying five assists. Prior to this, the junior slotted 8 goals and picked up 4 assists in 14 appearances in her freshman season of 2016.

Speaking in an official release, Lamar coach Steve Holeman praised Longmore’s athleticism. ”Siobhan is fast, athletic, and skillful. She is a natural left-footer, which is something we didn’t have on last year’s back line,” Holeman explained. “Because of her size and speed, she will be tough to beat. She also gives us another attacking option with her ability to play short and long passes from her outside back position or simply attack on the dribble.”

Meanwhile, Dodge City Community College coach Steward Bortey pointed out the Western Australian’s mental strengths. “Siobhan is an awesome person. She is fun to work with and very coachable. She has the drive to be successful in everything she does,” Bortey explained. “She is very athletic and very fast and will not let anyone stop her. I describe her as a game changer or a difference maker. She is fun to watch because of her athletic abilities and how explosive she is.”

With no left-footed defenders in last year’s Cardinals squad, Longmore will certainly provide a much-needed point of difference as the team attempts to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament after winning last year’s Southland Conference tournament and dropping just one game in the conference regular season on the way to an overall record of 18-4-1.

National Representative Ashleigh Lefevre headed to Illinois

Young Matildas representative Ashleigh Lefevre has become the latest Australian player with international experience to make the move to college, heading to Big Ten program Illinois.

Young Matildas representative Ashleigh Lefevre has become the latest Australian player with international experience to make the move to college, heading to Big Ten program Illinois. The versatile wide player has three caps for the Young Matildas as part of the 2016 AFF Championship squad, and also chalked up a goal in the team’s 20-0 demolition of Timor-Leste’s full national team in that tournament.

Lefevre spent the 2017 season playing for Alamein FC in the NPL Victoria competition, making 25 appearances and playing alongside former Florida International star and current Melbourne City W-League midfielder Amy Jackson as Alamein snuck into the finals in fourth place but fell in the minor semi-final to eventual grand finalists Geelong Galaxy United. Prior to playing for Alamein, Lefevre featured in the FFV NTC side in the 2016 NPL Victoria competition, making 16 appearances and chipping in with 12 goals as the NTC side finished 7th in the league. That NTC side also featured Melbourne Victory players Kyra Cooney-Cross and MelindaJ Barbieri, as well as Melbourne City youngster Sofia Sakalis, which speaks to the quality of the team.

Speaking in an official release, Illinois coach Janet Rayfield had the following to say with regards to the freshman. ”A multi-sport athlete who has worn the jersey for her country and has competed in the most competitive arena in Australia, Ashleigh Lefevre brings more international and national understanding to our program. Naturally left-footed, pacy and a two-sided player, Ashleigh adds to our flank defence and our flank attack. Her ability in that two-way 1-v-1 battle on the flank and the aerobic engine to go with it, Ashleigh will be able to contribute to shutouts and to goals.”

Illinois suffered through a difficult season in 2017, winning just five of their 19 games, but with a young team that loses just one regular starter to graduation, the Fighting Illini are set for improvement not only in 2018, but for the next few years as the side gains experience.

Laura Farrelly Signs With Marshall

Central Coast native and Manly United product Laura Farrelly has signed with Marshall University in West Virginia, taking the number of Australians playing in Conference USA to two, alongside Old Dominion’s Gaby Bentley. Farrelly also becomes the second former Manly United player to head to college in recent years, following former Washington State player and 2015 College Matildas Freshman of the Year, Tia Gavin.

An attacking midfielder, Farrelly spent the 2017 season playing in the reserves side for Manly United in NPL New South Wales, featuring in all 18 games for a side that finished sixth in the competition with ten wins and eight losses, narrowly missing out on the finals. Marshall coach Kevin Long has already expressed his happiness at Farrelly’s work ethic and game sense. In an official release, Long stated that “[Laura] is attacking her workouts and brings us a different perspective on the field we were looking for. She will play somewhere in the midfield for us, has already proven to have great vision on the field, dynamic runs in the attacking third and is looking to be dangerous every time she touches the ball.”

Living on the Central Coast of New South Wales and playing for Manly United has made for a lot of travel time for Farrelly whilst progressing through the junior ranks, and ironically, a move to the other side of the world has helped remove that obstacle.

“College was always one of those things which was always there as a possibility in the back of my mind since I was introduced to the idea by one of my friends who began the process,” Farrelly explained. “How I saw it was – college was an opportunity for me to thrive in a competitive soccer environment whilst being so close to campus that my studies weren’t as heavily affected as they would’ve been if I had been studying in Australia, where the commute down and back to training took out 3+ hours of my day which made keeping up with schoolwork and study hard.”
“Being in such a tight knit environment where classes and training are within walking distance meant that I could more efficiently balance my schedule so that I was making the most out of the times when I wasn’t training to get on with some of the work from my courses towards a degree which was being paid for by my soccer.”
With the idea of college set in stone, Farrelly was intent on finding a school that fit, and through an extended process, found Marshall to be the best fit.
“To tell about my personality a little, I am a relatively quiet to myself person who thrives in a family-like environment. I love knowing the majority of the people around me and so a college on the smaller side was always a priority for me if possible,” Farrelly said. “With a smaller college I tended to find the relationship between teammates was even larger than bigger colleges that I had talked to. Throughout the process of talking to coaches to find the right the right fit for me, we met many coaches whose colleges offered a lot in terms of facilities, education, high level soccer and so on, but none quite so much as (Marshall Head Coach) Kevin Long and (Assistant Coach) Erika Duncan had to offer me at Marshall University.”
“Marshall offered me the chance to play soccer at the highest level in a very competitive conference as well as aid financially in paying for an education which would help me in gaining my degree in exercise science. Through the numerous amounts of Skype calls which my parents and I interacted with Marshall, we were able to gain a good feel of the environment I would spend my next 4 years in.”
As well as the coaches, Farrelly was able to get an insight from the players that would become her teammates, opening her eyes to the environment at Marshall.
“I was able to privately talk to some of the girls from the team about dorms, on campus life and any other questions regarding the life of a student-athlete. This helped me to gain a realistic view of what I was getting myself into in terms of an extremely busy schedule of intense training mixed in with my classses. The engagement of both Kevin and Erika throughout the process intensified my feeings towards the college as they took steps beyond expectations to try make me feel comfortable and part of the Herd.”

The Marshall squad will lose two regular midfield players to graduation, including regular starter McKenna Klodrick, who has played almost every minute in the last two seasons, meaning that there will be minutes available in the midfield, but there will be an almighty battle for those now open positions.

Alyssa Van Heurck becomes La Salle’s second Australian

The number of Australians on La Salle’s roster will double in 2018, with Western Australian freshman Alyssa Van Heurck joining sophomore goalkeeper Claudia Jenkins at the Explorers. The Football West NTC defender and Perth Glory W-League training partner is the first player from Western Australia to make the move to a Division I college in recent years, with no players from the west having played at that level since College Matildas commenced coverage of Australians in 2014.

“I was always going to go to a local university in Perth but by joining a college in the US I can play soccer at a much higher standard while also studying for my chosen degree,” Van Heurck explained. “Studying in the US gives you exposure to different cultures and ideas and provides you with an opportunity to develop skills critical for future life.”

Van Heurck received offers from a number of colleges in both Division I and Division II, but in the end La Salle provided a balance that appealed to the freshman, with both competition level and playing time proving to be vital factors in her decision.

“When looking at colleges I really wanted to play in the highest division so La Salle being in Division I was a good fit,” Van Heurck revealed. “The opportunity to play at the highest level I possibly can is good but I am really keen to be on the field as much as possible being able to contribute and make a difference. My hometown is very mild with hot summers, so a college on the East Coast with a whole different environment is something I wanted to experience.”

“From meeting the coach (Paul Royal), he is very passionate about the game and I liked what he had in mind for me fitting into the team,” Van Heurck explained. “I have enjoyed watching the team last season I like their direct style of play and how they carry themselves, they seem to be very strong and fit, and out of soccer they seem to get along really well as a team.”

“And I have found since arriving that the coaching staff, teaching staff and team have been very supportive. I was a bit worried starting out but everyone is so helpful with getting me started into college life that I feel like I really fit in already.”

Helping Van Heurck settle in has been fellow Australian, goalkeeper Claudia Jenkins, who will be heading into her sophomore year after spending her freshman year as the backup to La Salle stalwart Larisa Zambelli.

“[Having Claudia on the team] has been fantastic and made the move easier as I had already got in contact with Claudia before leaving on what to expect. It’s also really fun to joke around with her talking to the girls about Australia.”

That will certainly be something to hear more about, but more importantly it will be fascinating to keep track of Van Heurck’s progress with the Explorers in a side that will be attempting to defend their 2017 Atlantic 10 conference title and make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.