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Huge life adventure begins for Whitianga football player

A few weeks ago, I interviewed Olivia McDonald, the young woman that Whitianga Lions helped sponsor to an international soccer competition in Dallas, Texas last year. Since then, Olivia has won a four-year scholarship to study in Nebraska. She leaves in July. It’s inspiring.
 |  Cynthia Daly  | 

Who would have thought that a trip to Texas for the Dallas International Girls Cup could lead to a scholarship for tertiary education in the USA?

In July, Olivia McDonald will head to Norfolk, Nebraska to take up a four-year scholarship at North-East Community College and represent them in soccer.

It’s the kind of dream so many sports talented and bright students hope will come true. For 18-year-old Olivia McDonald of Whitianga, the opportunity is beyond her dreams, and it all began when she joined a football team as the only girl player.

In 2022, Olivia was selected to represent New Zealand in an international football tournament as part of a team of players selected from schools around the country. To help her get there, Whitianga Lions Club donated $1000 towards her trip. “The trip was only partially funded, so the Lions Club members were an incredible support for me and my family,” says Olivia.

“The trip was 16 days in total and the tournament was five days, so all the time leading up to the tournament, we played practice games. it was so cool to be over there playing high level teams.”

The NZ team played in the Dallas International Girls Cup, but they just missed out on making the quarter finals. Olivia explains, “It was a shame because we were so close, but it was by one goal. Up until then, we were doing really well.

it was still a good opportunity for the team and a highlight was playing a number of warm up rounds with local teams in Dallas, as the NZ team hadn’t played together prior to the trip.

“Part of Olivia’s intention of the trip was to get exposure to the American level of soccer where ‘scouts’ are known to seek out ‘rising sports players. That’s exactly what happened.

“The coach for the college that I have signed up for, was at that tournament,” says Olivier.  The tournament gives coaches a lot of footage at a high level of football that the American coaches know and can recognise. “So, I definitely think it helped me get an offer from a college. To be able to put that opportunity on your resume and that you competed at that level, makes you stand out a little more, I suppose.”

While in Dallas, Olivia was billeted by a host family. “Being immersed in the American culture was something that settled my desire to go over to America for college

To truly understand where Olivia’s big adventure all started, we go back to a 12-year-old Olivia who had moved from Dunedin to Whitianga with her family and she wanted to play football. It’s known as soccer in the USA.

I joined the boys’ football team, the Mercury Bay Football Team but I was the only girl in the grade.” Olivia kept working her way up, and in Year 10 started playing club football.

“Mum was driving me to Hamilton once a week for training and then for the game on the weekend, on top of my school football.”

In Year 12, Olivia moved to Cambridge and went to boarding school at St Peters to play football for the Hamilton Wanders.

“I want to carry on playing up until I leave, to keep my skills up.”

There are lots of reasons I play football.

“Ultimately, I love winning. I love the feeling when you score a goal, but I also love the people you meet through it, the team environment and just having a whole group of girls around you.  You build a bond through sport that doesn’t come from a lot else. It’s just such good fun.”

On 31 July Olivia will head to Nebraska and will decide whether she will study agriculture or biology.

The scholarship will cover most of her costs, but she has to pay for her visa application, flights and her accommodation.

“I’ll be in the halls of residence and that is a large portion of the cost. I’m hugely grateful for the scholarship though, and my family is a massive help.”

Olivia is pretty determined to earn the money she needs.

“I’m working for a native tree planting and weed control company outside all day. It’s quite good fun and cool to make a bit of a difference, but it’s hard work cutting down weeds and prepping it to be planted, mainly on unusable farmland.

“I’m just trying to save as much as I can. I’m so looking forward to the football over there and getting exposure to the high-level coaching.

“The facilities that they have are just incredible, but also going into such a tight-knit team environment which will be amazing.

“Regarding the friends that I hope to make, I’m really looking forward to that. I’m looking forward to everything really.”

“You build a bond through sport that doesn’t come from a lot else. It’s just such good fun.”