Author Topic: Import of talent  (Read 1276 times)

Offline David

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Import of talent
« on: September 24, 2008, 09:13:11 PM »
British pair finds new home at PSU

Both have arrived from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Emma Thomson and Nikki Watts are making quite the contribution as the Penn State womens’ soccer team’s British imports.

“It’s a massive privilege to play any game time,” Thomson said. “I’m surprised (to play so much). I’ve loved every minute of it.” It’s not too bad for a couple of late additions.

While most of this year’s freshman class had been recruited for years — several commitments had been made to the previous coaching staff — Watts and Thomson didn’t even hear from Penn State or decide to go to school here until last spring.

Thomson had been thinking of attending a U.S. college for a while, and used the connections of her club coach to get in contact with schools. Among them was Nittany Lions assistant coach Michael Coll, a native of Ireland.

Watts, meanwhile, was not thinking of making the move until March, when she scored 11 of her team’s 14 goals in the Canadian Soccer Showcase. Word spread of her exploits, and soon the Nittany Lions were on the phone.

The end result? Watts has four goals and two assists and Thomson is giving opponents fits with her defense.

“We had heard great things about both of them and seen them on tape,” head coach Erica Walsh said. “We expected them to come in here and help us right away. Certainly Nikki’s success in scoring goals has been an added bonus. We’re fortunate it’s worked out as well as it has.”

The pair did not know each other until earlier this year, after their commitments to Penn State.

Watts is from Berkshire, in south-central England west of London. She’s also a junior transfer after spending two years at Filton College, where she won a pair of national championships. Thomson, a freshman, hails from Nottinghamshire, in north-central England near Sheffield, a few hours north of London.

“We can both relate,” Thomson said. “We’re both from the same situation, we both help each other out in regards to the different culture and just the different things — different words you call different things.”

While Watts’ family and friends had their reservations at first, they have been supportive of the move. Her boyfriend is supposed to visit later this week and her family will come around in the spring. For now, technology keeps everyone close.

“With the Internet and everything, you’re never too far from home,” Watts said. “Everyone’s friendly and now I feel at home.”

Along with the usual adjustments to a new country, their sport provides some other unique challenges: Here it’s soccer, not football, they play on a field, not a pitch, and wear cleats, not boots.

“We have a bit of a joke about it,” Thomson said. “It’s not a lot of trouble. We just have a laugh about it.”

It also has been a learning experience for their teammates.

“We’re learning a lot from them as much as they’re learning from us,” redshirt freshman Meghan Gill said. “They’re awesome players. You can’t say enough about them. They’re really cool off the field and on it.”

While England is known for its soccer passion, it’s more for the men. Women’s soccer is far behind the U.S. in popularity, although it has been growing steadily, and the pair has had to adapt to heavier training and some more nuanced changes.

“It’s just going to take time to get to know the style of play,” Watts said. “In England it’s more possession-based, while here it’s more direct and quicker. It was (difficult) to begin with but I’m getting used to it now and you have to be a step ahead in your head.”

The pair were late additions because three freshmen the Nittany Lions were counting on are unavailable this fall — playing in World Cups for various youth national teams. Lexi Marton is on the Canadian under-20 team while Christine Nairn is on the U.S. under-20 roster. Neither enrolled at Penn State as they focus on the World Cup in Chile in November. Meanwhile, Rachel Lamarre is on the Canadian under-17 team, which plays in its World Cup in New Zealand at the end of October.

“When the World Cup gets moved five months ago, you don’t have any choice,” Walsh said. “That’s the nature of recruiting top players — you lose them to World Cups.”

Walsh, who just helped the U.S. win an Olympic gold medal last month, does not see the addition of two British athletes being a harbinger of her program’s future, but she’s always happy when quality athletes fall into her lap — and score some goals.

“It’s great for the culture of the team and the players,” Walsh said. “It’s eye-opening. In youth soccer we’ve all become cookie-cutter images of one another and it’s nice to have somebody cut from a different mold.”