Sammy Murrell realises footballing dream with Harvard Scholarship

From Invercargill to Harvard University – it’s a 15,000km journey which sees southerner Sammy Murrell realise a footballing dream.

The New Zealand U20 Junior Football Fern leaves today for a four-year stint at the prestigious Ivy League institution, combining study with representing the successful Harvard Crimson football team.

Sammy Murrell (#5) at the FIFA U20 World Cup in 2016

Sammy is looking forward to finally joining her new teammates after her scholarship at the Boston University was confirmed way back at the beginning of the year.

“It’s been a long wait because I finished high school at the end of 2015. My plan had always been to graduate from high school and then maybe go overseas the following August, but then the U20 World Cup came up so I decided to take a year off study and focus on that. I was planning to start school after that, but then the opportunity at Harvard came along, and they only have an August intake. But I’m sure it will be worth the wait!”

Sammy at least got a taste of what she’s in for, with a tour of the University earlier in the year. “I actually went over for a visit in January. The pitches and facilities are insane. The gyms are huge and there’s trainers everywhere. The coaching staff are awesome, and I met most of the team and they seemed great. They’ve won the Ivy League conference three times in the past four years.”

As well as living and breathing football, Sammy will be learning in one of the world’s most distinguished Universities. Although she is yet to decide exactly what subject she’ll major in, there’s plenty of time to decide.

“We don’t have to declare our major until halfway through our second year, so we have quite a bit of time to explore some different subjects, and I’m keeping my options open. I took a couple of papers at Otago Uni last semester, just to dust off my brain! I really enjoyed the psychology paper I took so maybe something along those lines, but I could end up doing something completely different.”

The enormity of what’s ahead started to sink in during the psychology lectures. “In the psychology paper at Otago, the lecturer was citing research that was done at Harvard, so it’s quite unreal to think that’s where I’m going…. it still feels so surreal!”

As prestigious as the learning environment is, it’s clear what Sammy’s main focus will be. “We’ll have a couple of training sessions a day, in fact we have to pick our classes around our training. Obviously study is important but football is the top priority. It’s a real high-performance environment”.

As well as combining football with study overseas, Sammy’s other dream was to represent her country – something she did last year when she was part of the Junior Football Ferns side that competed admirably in the FIFA U20 World Cup in Papua New Guinea. Sammy featured in New Zealand’s impressive 1-0 win over Ghana. Also in the Junior Ferns squad was goalkeeper Tessa Nicol, who recently began the role of Women’s Development Officer for Football South.

Sammy Murrell with a young fan in Invercargill

Sammy recently joined Tessa in promoting the sport around the Football South region, an experience Sammy really enjoyed. A highlight was a special girls-only event in her hometown of Invercargill, which saw more than 70 local youngsters in attendance learning from the NZ reps. Sammy was humbled by the positive attention, realising how much impact a local hero could have on the young players’ careers.

“I really loved getting around the region and seeing where the girls game is at – it’s absolutely fizzing. Tessa’s done a great job since she’s been on board at Football South, so I’m sure there’s going to be great things happening in the women’s game across the Federation”.

When asked what her best advice would be for youngsters looking to further their footballing career, Sammy’s answer was unequivocal.

“I know it sounds a little bit cliched, but the mantra I’ve always gone with is that even if you fail at something just keep at it, because I’ve had my share of failures throughout my career so far but I never gave up on the game, and football still continues to give me so much in return.”

There’s no doubt that Sammy’s footballing journey is a brilliant advertisement for where football can take you, and with the women’s game making such huge advances across the globe, we’re sure to see more youngsters make their mark both at home and abroad.

– by Morgan Jarvis