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Change of soccer scenery works out well for Guelph's Abbi Morrell

After transferring to McNeese State, Abbi Morrell is finding success at the NCAA level

Midfielder Abbi Morrell laughs when she thinks of her start in the sport of soccer as she was basically a daisy picker in her first season of Guelph Soccer’s Timbits house play.

“I was,” she said. “I’d pick all the dandelions, do cartwheels. I’d go and look for all the people who brought their dogs and pet them all. All that stuff.”

Her parents enrolled her in soccer when she was four, but she didn’t understand the game so they put her in track for a few years before getting her back into soccer.

“I started playing soccer again when I was eight,” she said. “I remember my parents put me on the field and they’d say ‘OK, just run around and work hard.’ And I’d just run around and have no concept of soccer. Once I developed more mental skills, when I was eight I’d say, I kind of understood it better and I started to like it a lot more because I understood it. It’s fun.”

Now 21, John F. Ross CVI graduate Morrell is a midfielder in NCAA Division 1 soccer with the McNeese State University Cowgirls in Lake Charles, La.

“Our season was very unlucky. We had a good season, I would say,” she said of McNeese’s season that came to an end early this month. “We beat a bunch of records. We tied a record for most wins of a season ever in McNeese soccer history. A couple of girls on the team played the most games ever in McNeese soccer history. They beat a bunch of records. This year was the year that looked really good for us.”

McNeese, with a 9-2-1 record in Southland Conference play and 13-5-2 record overall, looked set to finish in first in the seven-team conference until Houston Baptists University had to forfeit all its games due to the use of an ineligible player. It made no difference to McNeese as the Cowgirls had beaten Nicholls twice, but it helped Northwestern State Demons of Natchitoches, La., who had split with Nicholls. Getting a win instead of a loss to Nicholls gave Northwestern State a 10-2-0 record and first place in the conference, two points ahead of McNeese. It also meant Northwestern State got a bye in the quarter-finals while McNeese had to play Nicholls. McNeese won that game 2-0, but were eliminated when they were edged 1-0 by third-seed University of the Incarnate Word Cardinals of San Antonio in the semifinals.

“They scored a goal off a free kick,” Morrell said. “It was just a really annoying game and it ended and we were like ‘Did we actually just lose this?’ We did. The team that ended up winning the conference tournament (Northwestern State) was a team we’d beat twice.”

For Morrell, though, it was a pleasing season, her first at since transferring from the Central Michigan Chippewas of Mount Pleasant, Mich.

“From my perspective from going from a program that was in a rebuilding process for three years to going to a program that should’ve got first and should’ve been going to the NCAA tournament, it’s good,” the Guelph native said during a video call. “I’m happy I have one more year here and I think we have a lot to build off of, honestly.”

Morrell began her NCAA soccer at Central Michigan in 2018 and appeared in 18 games, including five starts, getting the most playing time of any of the team’s freshmen. However, her sophomore season in 2019 was limited to four games due to injury and then she opted out of the 2020 season.

“I opted out just because it was really confusing with COVID going on, what was happening and how to get over the border,” Morrell said. “All that stuff was confusing and then they had the option to opt out and our season was also moved to (the sping) semester. So I stayed at home and then I trained with a team in Canada for that first semester and I went back to Central Michigan for the second semester in January once everything was figured out more and we had a definite season that spring that semester.”

Morrell also found that she didn’t really fit in with Central Michigan’s plans.

She had been recruited by head coach Peter McGahey, but he was gone and replaced by Jeremy Groves by the time she first went to the university.

“I didn’t really love the program anymore,” Morrell said. “There’s a lot of things I disagreed with and a lot of the people that I went into the program with were no longer there. When I went in that spring semester, he told me ‘I brought in 15 of my recruits and there’s six people in front of you for your position. You can come and see what happens.’ I was like ‘OK, I’ll come and see what happens.’”

What happened was that she didn’t get on the playing roster.

“I honestly gave it my best effort, as I always do,” she said. “I got the best I ever have on all my fitness tests and everything. I honestly thought I played pretty well. I thought I played to a good level.”

But she didn’t crack the roster and decided she wanted to go somewhere else, possibly McNeese which had been on her radar at the time she selected Central Michigan, mainly because it was closer to Guelph. 

When Morrell asked if she could keep training with the team at Central Michigan, she was told she could as long as she didn’t let any of the other players know that she was going to transfer out at the end of the school year.

“I still wanted to train with the team because I didn’t want to just go there and sit around and do nothing because I love soccer and if you stop doing soccer you’re going to lose a lot of game fitness and all that stuff,” she said.

In her two playing seasons at Central Michigan, Morrell took eight shots, five on target, and started five of the team’s 22 games. This just-completed season with McNeese she had a goal, two assists, 26 shots with 11 on target and she started 13 of the team’s 20 games.

Back in Guelph last summer, she started training with Guelph Union for the League1 Ontario season. However, when it became apparent that Union wouldn’t start their season early enough for her to play any games, with help from Union player and coach AC Lang, she caught on with Calgary Foothills of United Women’s Soccer’s West Division.

“I played a game the day after I flew there and then we flew to Utah to play a game and then we flew to Los Angeles, Santa Clarita, to play a game,” Morrell said. “We had to win that game to go to Nationals, go to Houston. (They tied.) Then I flew back to Calgary and then I flew home and from home I immediately left to come to school.”

Morrell did score a goal in her time with the Calgary squad.

“I missed all the Guelph Union games because they didn’t get started with their games until I would’ve been leaving for school just because of the COVID restrictions in Ontario while in Alberta, everything was open,” she said.

When Morrell arrived at McNeese, one thing immediately stood out – the temperature.

“It’s so hot, especially in the summer,” she said. “I remember the first time I came down here, I came down early to get used to the heat. I was like ‘Oh I love the heat.’ Canada, hate, hate cold weather. I do. I got here and this is a whole new level of heat.

“It is so hot, but, honestly, I got used to it pretty quickly. I adapted pretty quickly to it.”

And she felt that helped her conditioning.

“I feel like the fittest I ever have from being able to play 90 minute to two hours, whatever our practice time is, game time is, in heat like that,” she said. “It’s insane, but I feel so much more fitter because of it. I feel that sometimes when we play other teams at times that aren’t used to the heat that come down to the area, we definitely do have an advantage on them just from having a fitter team.”

And there’s no point in complaining because that’s not going to change anything.

“You’ve just to play. Everyone’s under the same weather conditions, you’ve just got to play. Just do the best you can because you can always do the best you can, no matter the circumstances.”

And she also feels that the change in environment has certainly helped her.

“I don’t think anyone should ever be worried about leaving somewhere because they’re going to lose their friends or like that,” she said. “You should always put yourself first and there’s always going to be new people to meet in life and you should never be afraid of that.”