Milford’s Morgan Andrews still determined to represent US women’s soccer at Olympics
It wasn’t how the average 17-year-old girl would prepare for a 10-day, spring trip to Southern California.
Not showing up to the otherwise deserted soccer field at Mines Falls Park on a bone-chilling late March morning, a few lonely snow flakes dancing in a light breeze.
But Morgan Andrews, a junior at Milford High School, is no ordinary teenager. She’s the captain of the Under 17 United States Women’s Soccer team, a two-time winner of the New Hampshire Gatorade Player of the Year Award, and considered a strong candidate for the national award, which will be announced later this spring.
How does a small town girl from New Hampshire reach the level of success few athletes in state history have reached at her age?
By outworking, or at least attempting to outwork, everyone else.
When Andrews was 10 she made a decision that would change her life. Already identified as a gifted soccer player, she declared a long-term goal of someday playing for the U.S. National Team.
It wasn’t unlike hundreds of Little Leaguers, asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, dreaming of a spot on the pitcher’s mound at Fenway Park.
But there was one major difference. Andrews was very serious about her goal and she had a family willing to make all the sacrifices, financially and otherwise, to make it happen.
“I couldn’t have done it without them,” Andrews said. “It’s really incredible what my whole family has sacrificed to give me this opportunity.”
One of the first big moves was hiring a skills coach, Nashua’s Mo Keita, who began training her at 10 and has been there, two or three times a week, ever since. Keita grew up in Guinea on the West Coast of Africa, played collegiately at the University of Rhode Island and did a stint as a professional player with the Phantoms.
During that late March training session, Keita kept Andrews busy with a series of varied drills, designed to improve her footwork and first touch. For several minutes Keita would lob the ball toward Andrews, who would chest trap it just under her chin, then head the ball toward Keita as he moved from side to side.
For Andrews, soccer skills others might find difficult have become second nature, like when Keita tossed the ball over her head from behind and Andrews would catch it on one foot before spinning and kicking it back.
“After a while, you’re able to do things without thinking,” Andrews said. “That makes it a lot easier when you’re in a game.”
Soccer skills are one thing, but playing alongside older women, like Andrews did when she was invited to train with the Under 23 U.S. team last fall, requires strength as well. She was the youngest player at the camp, and on hand to evaluate them was U.S. National Team head coach Pia Sundhage.
“At times it can be intimidating, playing against some of the top college players in the country,” Andrews said. “But I held my ground.’’
Helping her do that has been her recent work with Kevin Buckley at Dynamic Strength and Conditioning in Nashua. Not only has Andrews become stronger overall, but she’s dramatically increased her vertical leap, which at 5-foot-9 makes her even more dangerous heading the ball.
The hard work has certainly paid off. A month ago Andrews competed with the national team in Spain in games against Holland, England and France. Andrews, who plays a defensive midfield position, scored her team’s only goal in a 1-1 tie with England.
This week’s training will culminate with a game against China’s Under 20 team. In May, Andrews will be in Guatemala City, playing in a tournament that will include national teams from Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas and Mexico.
She’ll continue to play high school soccer for Milford in the fall, but like last year will miss a considerable chunk of the season. The 2012 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup will be played in Azerbaijan, Sept. 22 to Oct. 13.
And yes, Andrews will also miss part of the football season. She was the place kicker last fall for the Milford football team and good enough to get selected to the Division III All-State team.
Ultimately, Andrews, who verbally agreed over a year ago to attend Boston College, would like to be part of the U.S. Olympic Team. She’s targeting the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro. The 2015 Women’s World Cup will be played a year earlier in Canada.
But in the meantime, despite plenty of offers to join a prep school program, Andrews is comfortable at home in Milford.
“It’s really nice to be home in Milford, around nice people,” Andrews said. “The community – my teachers, my friends, my school – are huge supporters. I couldn’t leave every month without their support.”
She has been giving something back through a charity called “Kicks for Cans,” which she started with her mother. She runs clinics with high school friends for youth players, whose admission is canned food which is donated to a local food bank. The next clinic will be in May.
How she does it all, including keeping up with her schoolwork, is mind boggling. But it’s all about the goal she established as a 10-year-old, a goal that is now clearly in sight.