Soccer, Study, and Starbucks: Claire Farrington finds her place at Butler

(Credit: Zach Bolinger)

“I mean, Starbucks, we have one on campus, and it’s okay. But I’d prefer to go to a little independent cafe, except I don’t have a bike yet.”

Like most Australians in the US, finding a good coffee is a struggle for Claire Farrington. However, the similarities with the vast majority of her compatriots end there for the Butler sophomore, whose journey to college soccer has taken her from her home in Modanville on the outskirts of Lismore in northern NSW, to playing alongside half a dozen Matildas stars in the W-League for Brisbane Roar during the 2019/20 season, and then onwards to Indianapolis. So, why does a player who has shared defensive responsibilities with Clare Polkinghorne, Mackenzie Arnold, and Elise Kellond-Knight in the W-League make her way over to the US instead of remaining at the Roar?

“I was really just looking at my next step. I’d come out of my first W-League season, in which I didn’t get to play much as I was expecting. And I just didn’t think I was in a situation where if I stayed there, I would have got game time. And every player wants game time,” Farrington explained. “So, I was thinking about where I could go, that would help me improve. And I also wanted to return to studying and I feel like Australia doesn’t really have the facilities and resources to support many student athletes.

“And I’ve been on teams with a couple other college girls from over here, like (former North Carolina and Lions FC defender) Cannon Clough and (former Michigan and Logan Lightning forward) Taylor Timko. And they just raved about their experiences. So, I started thinking about college. It just made sense, the resources here, and the setup makes it so easy for students to do well at school and do well at their sport.”

However, whilst moving to Butler is certainly the biggest move of Farrington’s life, it’s by no means the first. Hailing from an area where opportunities to progress to the elite level are almost non-existent, Farrington had already made the move to Brisbane a couple of years prior. Coming from a regional area, moving long distances is part of the process of playing elite sport, but Farrington wasn’t even thinking about college at the time.

“Honestly, when I moved to Brisbane, I had no idea that I would end up in the States at that point in time. It was just ‘I’m going to move to Brisbane, train with the youth Roar, see where that gets me’, and I was fortunate enough that it got me to pretty much where I wanted to go. And it was literally only probably the start of last year that I’d really considered moving to the States. And from then it was a pretty quick turnaround.

“So, I wouldn’t say coming from a rural area impacted me too much. Initially, I honestly would never have thought that I’d end up here. But when I was moving it was because lack of opportunities in northern New South Wales. I’d have to have to travel eight hours to Newcastle is the closest competitive tournament at that stage. So, moving from Lismore to Brisbane made sense. And then it just so happened that I moved again.”

It is said that moving away from home when young can make a person grow up quickly, and indeed it took a maturity beyond her years for Farrington to look in the mirror and face some hard truths about her first season in the W-League and her future plans. Not only that, once the decision had been made to head to college, she also had to ensure that she made the right choice of school, not just in terms of football but from a holistic standpoint.

“I think at that point in time, I wasn’t ready to play W-League. I think that showed in my debut and a couple other games that I made appearances in, and although I was playing along national level players, so many of them as well, I just didn’t think that I was getting the right opportunity to improve. And it is a really competitive environment at the Roar. But I had more resources here than I would have if I stayed at the Roar.

“And I think I made the right choice. I think I’ve improved so much in the past year. And I think I’m only going to keep improving in the following years. And then again, it just comes down to the fact that I also wanted to return to study. And if I had have stayed in Brisbane, study, work and soccer – because work is a necessity if you’re playing in the W-League – I don’t think I could have balanced them all as well as I would have liked.

“I talked to a few schools. It was a pretty crazy process because I kind of only decided pretty late in the recruiting process that I wanted to come here so I went through Aussie Athletes Agency. And I’ll credit them, they pretty much did all the work. They just threw my highlight video out there, and they got around to a lot of different schools.

“Then it was just a process of kind of filtering out which ones would be a good fit for me. I’d say that I looked at a lot of schools in the Midwest region, which is where I ended up, but the two primary schools when it came down to it that I was looking at were Indiana University and Butler University. Which is crazy, because they’re so close together. And it just so happened that they were the two that I was considering most.

“(I talked to) a few Div 2 or NAIA schools. But that just wasn’t the route that I was really looking at going down. I knew that if I wanted to come here, I wanted to challenge myself as much as possible. So, I wanted to find a really good school and then one that also fit my playing style and what I wanted to get out of my four years here. I probably wouldn’t have moved if it was anything lower.”

For those not aware, Butler University in Indianapolis and Indiana University’s Bloomington campus are separated by just 58 miles on IN-67S. However, they could not be more different as schools. Indiana is a public university, Butler is private. Indiana’s Bloomington campus has 45,000 students. Butler has 5,000. Indiana is in a town about the size of Mackay or Rockhampton. Butler is in a major city with a metro about the size of Brisbane. Whilst they are close geographically, they could not be more different. So, what swung Farrington towards Butler instead of Indiana?

“It’s hard, because on paper, probably Indiana would have made more sense. It’s a bigger school, bigger names, more facilities. But I think it was the coaches that sold me. I obviously never got to visit either school in person. But at the end of the day, I was going to be away from home from four or five years. And I just really wanted to feel comfortable. And I felt most comfortable when I was talking to (Butler Co-Head Coaches) Rob (Alman) and Tari (St. John). And then I spoke to a couple other girls on the team, and there was looking at their facilities. I think I like that it’s a small school, too. It makes me feel less alone.”

We will never know if choosing Indiana would have worked out for Farrington, but so far, Butler has been an inspired choice for the former Brisbane Roar player. After coming off the bench in 9 of Butler’s 12 games in the Spring 2021 season and tallying her first college goal in the process, the defender has moved into the starting lineup for all eight of the Bulldogs’ matches so far this season, helping her team to a 7-1 record to this point. But even this success hasn’t surpassed Farrington’s expectations, mainly because she didn’t have any in the first place.

“I didn’t really know what I was expecting. Because coming into the college system, it’s just so hard to explain how different it is to anything in Australia or probably anywhere else in the world. Like it’s so unique. And, so I really had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know if it was kind of a ‘Seniors First’ policy, like prioritise them, and then if we’re winning, give other people game time. I obviously chose a school that I thought I could make an impact on because I wanted to be playing. I didn’t know I would be playing as much as I am.

“I also didn’t realise the subbing rule; it never really clicked to me how much you can sub and how much that can have an impact on the game. But I’m grateful for the amount of game time I’m getting and can I only hope it stays the same.”

Of course, early success is one thing, but Farrington made the move to Butler partly to receive opportunities that perhaps weren’t as forthcoming in Australia. Whilst it is only early in her second season, the sophomore is already reaping the rewards that come with being part of a fully synchronised program that allows student-athletes to focus on their study and sport with little outside distraction.

“It’s definitely given me the opportunity to spend more time focusing on how I can be a better athlete in terms of recovery and nutrition and sleep. And then it’s also just given me the best opportunity possible to succeed at school. When those are the only two focuses, and I don’t have to worry about financial income, it makes life so much easier because I can really just try and give my all to my study and sport. And I don’t think I would have got that in Australia, just with the current set up. And I’m really grateful to be able to have the opportunity to come here because it really does make life so much easier.”

It certainly appears that being given that ability to focus so intently on football is working a treat as Farrington maintains a position in the starting lineup for a Butler side that has now won seven games on the trot since an opening day 5-0 loss to Michigan. The spring campaign saw Butler reach the Big East championship game before falling to Georgetown in overtime, and Farrington can see the Bulldogs making another charge towards silverware this year.

“I think we definitely have the potential to do that. Last year, it was a very interesting year in a lot of different ways. There are a lot of factors that we didn’t expect to come into play, mainly COVID, and the effect that that had throughout the season. But I think we did as well as we could have in managing that and overcoming those issues, and still just training and playing for every game. I think we could have gone further than the conference finals, And I hope we do this year.

“We have so much depth, and that really helps us in later minutes of the game when other teams are starting to tire and they only have the starting 11. Which isn’t true for all teams, but having depth that is as good as our starting 11, which we have, is insanely helpful.

“It helps build the competitive environment and training too, because anyone can get that starting spot. I think we’ve progressed well through each of our games and from each of the games including the Michigan loss. We’ve learned a lot, especially from the Michigan loss. And I think that we’re only going to keep learning and keep getting better as a team.”

Success in any one season is always desirable, but four years of college on a full scholarship provides opportunities to succeed in a number of different ways, and not just on the pitch or in the classroom. Whilst legacies aren’t at the forefront of Farrington’s mind, she certainly has an idea of what would constitute a successful time at Butler.

“Obviously, post college, I want to continue playing at the highest level possible. And if my college career earns me a pro sport in Europe, or back home in Australia, I’ll be incredibly happy and definitely think of it as success. But at the same time, if I come out of college and have my degree, and maybe even a Master’s, then I think that’s a success as well.

“And then also just the social side, like making friends in a new country, having connections, where not my people from back home have been, that’s also a success for me, because I know if I ever come back, I can find them and catch up.

“As an individual, I don’t really mind how I’m remembered as part of the Butler women’s soccer team. I hope we do great things, I hope we can get a ring, I think we have the potential to get a ring, but that’s going take the whole team and whole staff and the whole athletic staff as well. So, I think that’s something that I would really like to achieve in my time here, but that’s a team achievement. Honestly, if I can play well and consistently, I think that’s how I would like to be remembered. And then I think, you know, I’m always going to be remembered as the Australian with a funny accent. Americans love the accent.”

Claire Farrington certainly has plenty she wants to achieve in her four years at Butler, and is well on her way to fulfilling those ambitions. And maybe, just maybe, she’ll even find herself a decent cup of coffee.

About Lachy 383 Articles
Founder of College Matildas. An Australian women's football fan who also happens to be a college sports fan. Often found at A-League Women or NPLW games.

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