It’s fair to say that a lot has changed in Emma Bates’ life of late. Having verbally committed to Louisiana two years ago, the Northern Tigers midfielder made the move in January only for the coach that recruited her to leave for another post shortly after. Now, in a new country, with a new coach, and a new club team to play for over the summer, Bates is diving headlong into her newest adventure.
“Year 10, I’d say, was when I made the decision,” Bates explains of her choice to play college soccer rather than stay in Australia. “My dad suggested playing in the US as an option. Until then, I hadn’t really given it any thought.
“So, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s a good idea.’ And so, we looked into it straight away; got in contact with John (Stevanja) from Upper 90 College. And then it just started from there.
“Obviously, I want to improve (my football). I love traveling. And I can get a degree. So, it’s kind of a three in one opportunity for me. I thought that it would be a great option.
“So yeah, I just decided to do this. And I love it. It’s so good.”
However, there is a major difference between a player choosing the college pathway and finding a school that appeals to them to the point that they’re ready to commit. But a combination of some assistance from Upper 90 College and her own due diligence allowed Bates to make a decision early in the piece, and although she is just months into her college career, it looks to have been the right one.
“John (Stevanja) was doing all the communicating for me (in Year 10), because obviously it was too early for me to directly contact coaches (due to NCAA rules).
“I had quite a few schools contacting me, mostly via email. And then for two weeks straight, I had a call every day, and some were quite late because of the time difference. At the end of this process, I knew which school I wanted to go with.’
“I (verbally) committed very early to Louisiana. It was pretty much exactly two years before I arrived here that I committed to the Cajun program.
“The coaches, I felt really good about them. They were really nice and supportive. (And) the facilities, their playing style, and they’d been improving throughout the seasons, too. So that was good.
“I researched many of the colleges and their programs with quite an open mind and in the end I got a really good vibe from the coaches about becoming a Ragin Cajun. It just felt right.”
However, those weren’t the only factors that Bates considered. In some sports, a lot about a team’s style of play can be gleaned from the stats. In football though, particularly without access to advanced analysis, the only way to truly know a team’s playing style is to watch them. So that’s exactly what Bates did.
“I watched a lot of Louisiana’s games, especially once I had (verbally) committed so I could get a feel for how they played. So, I’d know how I’d fit in and what I needed to do. When I watched the games, I liked their style of play, passing the ball around and keeping possession. I felt that style would suit me.
“I watched a few games of the other universities to get a comparison. ‘How do they play? Do they pass the ball? Do they go long and direct?’ During the process I also asked the coach about their style of play, their philosophy, playing formation and things like that.”
However, all that study of game film and connection with coaches meant little as Louisiana head coach Lance Key departed for Texas-based NCAA Division III program Hardin-Simmons University shortly after Bates’ arrival in January. A new coach would obviously mean some sort of change, but would they bring a style of coaching and a style of play that would allow her to flourish? Although Bates was slightly taken aback by the entire situation, new coach Chris McBride has brought a style that the freshman has fully embraced.
“Chris is really good. I’ve really enjoyed all our training sessions which have been high intensity, well organised and structured. His focus is a possession-based style which suits my game.”
Of course, it isn’t just training during which Bates has had the opportunity to experience her new coach’s philosophy. The Ragin’ Cajuns played three spring friendlies as well as a tournament this spring, with the Australian already finding some early success, chalking up a game-winning goal in a 1-0 victory over Southern University as the Ragin’ Cajuns finished spring play with 3 wins from 3 games and outscoring their opponents 11-1.
“The first game was a bit different. It took me a little bit of adjusting to get used to the different style of play and my new teammates, and how we gel together. But I really enjoyed it. I only played two of the three games because I was injured. We also had a 7 v 7 tournament, which was pretty fun.
“It was really good to get my first collegiate goal. It was towards the end of the game, and it gave me a good boost of confidence in those remaining minutes. It felt really good to get the win.”
But the offseason play is not done as Bates takes up a spot in United Women’s Soccer with San Antonio Athenians. The Athenians reached the national semi-finals in 2021 before falling to eventual champions Santa Clarita Blue Heat, providing Bates with a high-level environment as she continues to settle into the American style of soccer.
“I’d spoken to Lance originally and said that I wanted to play club football over here; do you recommend anyone? And him being from San Antonio, he had a few connections. Lance put me in contact with the old technical director, Olivier (Pheulpin) and it went from there.
“They’ve got a new coaching staff now. I’ve been in contact with them quite a lot and I’m looking forward to heading over there soon. `
“They’re doing really well. The new coaching staff are putting a lot of effort into things like facilities, upping the training and fitness, and making it a very technical style of game. I don’t know too much about the other teams or the actual conference itself. It’s all pretty new to me, but exciting. I’m excited as it’ll be a great experience playing at a high level of club football.”
Bates will have plenty of people to learn from, and that’s just within her living quarters in San Antonio.
“Ashley Newland, who’s an ex-player here (at Louisiana), she’s playing there. We’ll actually be roommates. We’re living in a house of seven. It’s going to be a crazy household, but I’m looking forward to it!”
However, that stint with San Antonio Athenians will make up but a small part of the midfielder’s future. Bates has four years in Lafayette, during which she has a brilliant opportunity to progress as a footballer as she looks to build a career that hopefully culminates in a professional contract.
“While at Louisiana, I’d like to play as many minutes as possible, play an influential role and work towards bringing us some success over the next few years. First and foremost, I just want to keep developing myself as a player. That’s the reason I came over here as I would love to play pro one day after college.
“Playing in the A-League Women would be a really nice option, you know, that’s where I live. But also, as I love traveling, I’d love to look into options here in the US or some of the leagues in Europe. I’ve seen players like Tessa Tamplin and Winonah Heatley go over there recently and it is certainly a pathway I’d like to look at.”
“Let’s see what the future holds.”