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With a population of about 5 million people and just 16 regions, New Zealand is home to a much smaller bundle of people than the United States of America. In fact, it is home to about 326 million less people than the U.S.
With more surface area comes more opportunity and that is exactly why this Kiwi made the trip to America to play soccer.
Starting her journey in Bloomington, Indiana, Gabi Rennie, a 22-year-old forward, originally hails from Christchurch, Canterbury in New Zealand, with the goal of pursuing a soccer career and earning a prestigious American degree.
Her story is not the tale of an average soccer player coming to the States to find a school who would take her on as a collegiate soccer player.
Prior to arriving in Indiana, this young New Zealand star had already made significant appearances for New Zealand’s national teams, including participation in the U17 and U18 teams, an appearance at the U17 FIFA World Cup, the 2023 World Cup, and even competing in the 2020 Olympics.
It goes without saying that Rennie was a highly sought-after talent coming out of New Zealand.
Her success can be attributed to her decision to forego other sports and concentrate exclusively on soccer – or as Rennie prefers to call it, football.
The sacrifice proved to be advantageous for the young champion, as her soccer skills continued to flourish with her singular dedication.
“(Soccer has) taken me to a lot of places,” Rennie said. “It has taken me now to college and America which has been so great and such a different experience that I wouldn’t have got at home.”
Finding her stride
Out of Rangiora High School, Rennie signed with Indiana University Bloomington in 2020 and her stay in The States began.
With the accomplishments that Rennie entered Indiana in tow with, it is no surprise that she appeared in all 12 of the Hoosiers 2021 Spring season games, tallying one goal and one assist in its 6-5-1 season.
In her sophomore season, Rennie skillfully managed the delicate balance of playing for the Hoosiers while also representing New Zealand’s national team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, a balance she has since mastered.
Rennie played in all three matches for New Zealand during its trip to Tokyo who unfortunately did not make it out of group play after tough losses to the U.S., Australia and Sweden.
Despite the less-than-expected outcomes for Rennie during New Zealand’s participation, the 18-year-old managed to make her mark in Tokyo by scoring one of New Zealand’s only two goals throughout three games, with a goal against Australia in stoppage time.
Hot off her Olympic goal, Rennie appeared in only nine of Indiana’s 18 games her sophomore season, instigating the start of her transfer to ASU.
“I met some awesome people there but unfortunately, it just wasn’t the right fit for me,” Rennie said. “I had some issues just kind of finding my stride there.”
The next decision for Rennie involved determining her path after Indiana. She hadn’t anticipated her time with the Hoosiers to be so brief, and now she found herself facing an unexpected choice.
Where to next?
Out of all of the possible landing spots for a young star like Rennie, she chose to be a Sun Devil.
For that decision, Sun Devil Nation can thank former ASU defender Tahlia Herman-Watt, another Kiwi who made her way to The Valley.
“When I was looking to transfer, I reached out to Tahlia and asked her point blank about what the team was like and she really vouched for the team, vouched for the coaching staff,” Rennie said. “She didn’t prove me wrong; she didn’t steer me wrong.”
As a junior, Rennie made it official – she became a Sun Devil.
The combination instantly clicked for both Rennie and the program.
“I was really grateful that when I transferred, I came here and kind of fell in love with football again and was able to enjoy it and have a good college experience,” Rennie said. “I’m really happy I did because the group of girls is like, one of the best teams that I’ve been a part of.”
Leaving her woes behind her in Indiana, Rennie played in 14 games her junior and inaugural season with ASU while earning three starts. She contributed 3 assists with nearly half of her total shots being on goal with 46%.
Now, in her senior season for ASU, Rennie has officially found her footing, starting in five games and culminating nearly 630 minutes of field time as one of ASU’s go-to stars.
Rennie has already racked up three goals and is leading her team in shots on goal with 55% of her shots being on goal.
She finally found a program that aligned with her aspirations and actively supported her role on the New Zealand national team while helping her maintain a delicate balance between the two.
“The coaching staff are super supportive and coach (Graham Winkworth) has been really great with my national team stuff and allowing me to do that as well,” Rennie said. “Which is sometimes really hard during college. I’ve been really lucky being out here.”
A World Cup Sun Devil
ASU’s backing of Rennie’s extracurricular commitments was tested when she secured her qualification to represent New Zealand in the 2023 Women’s World Cup, which was held in both her home country of New Zealand and Australia.
The World Cup overlapping with preseason was less than ideal, but the coaching staff knew this was an opportunity that she could not turn down.
“It’s so cool to be part of such a historical moment and to see the change,” Rennie said. “When I was young, I didn’t really know any football players, like New Zealand football players, you know. There wasn’t any in the public eye.”
With the weight of this opportunity not lost on her, during New Zealand’s first match of group play against Norway, Rennie triggered the fastest speed on both teams at 8.9 km/hr. (5.5 m/hr.) as her team got the 1-0 win.
Unfortunately for New Zealand, the national team lost its following match against the Philippines and then drew against Switzerland, ultimately knocking them out in group play before they could advance to the round of 16.
Once again, not the ending Rennie was searching for while playing for New Zealand’s national team, but she was endlessly thankful for being a part of the 2023 World Cup in her own backyard.
For Rennie, playing against top notch players and being in the same competition as veterans like Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Julie Ertz was an experience she would never forget, granted the outcome.
“It was my first ever World Cup, so that was amazing (and) then to have a World Cup in New Zealand is so crazy,” Rennie said. “It was amazing I mean, we had my old hairdressers, my old teachers, my old babysitters come to the games and watch.”
The World Cup took place from July 20th until New Zealand was officially knocked out on Aug. 5th, making the Aug. 17 preseason game for ASU hard to come by for Rennie.
“After the World Cup, it was pretty tough,” Rennie said. “It was a really emotionally draining, intense thing. It was a home World Cup, so emotions were really high.”
The exhausted 21-year-old had to make the over 20-hour flight back home and start right back up with training for ASU.
Or so she thought.
Coach Winkworth understood the emotional strain that Rennie was coming off of and allowed her to take her time in returning and focus on coming down from the experience with her family in New Zealand.
Even though she missed a week of preseason with the Sun Devils, Rennie believes that the short break was essential for her to come back with a clear mind and be fully prepared for competition.
“As cliché as it sounds”
After making her return to The Valley and taking a short break from the hustle and bustle, Rennie was able to process how special playing in a World Cup in front of her friends and family really was.
She attributes her family as her unwavering pillars of support, and the ability to share this achievement with them was truly an indescribable moment for her.
“I don’t think little me would have ever thought that that was gonna be a possibility,” Rennie said. “Getting to play in front of my family, you know, they don’t get to see me play much because I’m playing over here.”
The endless rides to soccer practices, sitting through games rain or shine and traveling to tournaments had finally been rewarded to the Rennie family and all those around her who showed up to support.
“My family’s like, as clichéas it sounds, they’re definitely like my rock,” Rennie said. “They’ve done so much for me and I definitely wouldn’t be where I am without my family.”
Rennie acknowledged the difficulty of being away from home while pursuing the sport she loves, especially without her family in the bleachers, but she thanks technology for being able to keep her feeling like she is connected to home in the hardest times.
With her family’s support playing a pivotal role in her success over the past nearly four years, Rennie’s final year of collegiate soccer is drawing to a close. Even with a World Cup, an Olympics, several national team rosters and two Division I colleges under her belt, the young star confesses that she has grappled with maintaining her passion for the sport.
“It’s been tough. I mean, I haven’t had much time off football for a while, but I mean, it’s good because I love it,” Rennie said. “There was a big period of time where I really was not enjoying football and I was even thinking about, you know, giving up.”
What helped her overcome this? Relying on her resources.
She took a step back, revisited the roots of her love for the sport, reminded herself why she chose to wake up every morning to play it and made sure she was in a state of happiness before pushing herself to continue pursuing it.
“Just make sure (you’re) always having fun and (are) happy and that helps,” Rennie said.
It’s remarkable to consider that if Rennie had allowed the overwhelming feelings to overcome her and pull her away from the sport, she wouldn’t have accomplished all that she already has at the young age of 21-years-old.
But here she is, in a place she once dreamed of being and she’s happy that she held on.
“Now, to have little girls with my face on the poster is… yeah, it’s really crazy,” Rennie said. “So yeah, I’m really grateful for that.”
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