American university Alabama State is hoping a trio of talented young Australian players can help drive it towards success in 2021.
Alabama State have recruited Aussies Grace Norbury, Sophie Bui and Madison Chambers for their new season, which kicks off next month.
The Lady Hornets, located in the city of Montgomery, is a NCAA Division 1 college that compete in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Midfielder Norbury has joined from Victorian club Box Hill United, while defender Bui has returned from ACT outfit Tuggeranong United, after a past spell with the university in 2019, and forward Chambers will arrive later this year from Tasmanian side Olympia Warriors.
Alabama State have a long history of Antipodean talent on their roster, with Shelbi Vienna-Hallam, Katherine McCleary and Anastasia McCleary all starring for the school in previous years.
And after winning back-to-back championships in 2016 and 2017, the belief in the Deep South side is there to push for more silverware with their green and gold contingent.
“Definitely the championship is the ultimate goal,” Norbury told The World Game.
“I think with the team we have a pretty decent shot of making that. We’ll just have to see.”
Norbury and compatriot Bui landed in the United States at the start of January after a planned move in 2020 was postponed because of COVID-19.
“I’m settling in really well, it’s been amazing so far,” the 19-year-old said.
“We have our first non-conference game on the 9th of February and then the actual season starts on the first weekend of March. I’ve always wanted to go over and play college soccer.
“I got in touch with a person called Cameron at a recruiting agency and we just worked with him, created a profile and added some video.
"He just basically emailed all the college coaches and then Jodie [Smith, coach] got back to me, we spoke and figured out there would be quite a few Aussies that have been over here, and just decided that was going to be the right fit for me at the moment.”
Norbury was unaware of the school’s Australian link at first but says that local connection has helped smooth her transition.
“I didn’t realise, but yeah there has been that Aussie connection,” she said.
“Bringing Sophie with me on the flight and the first week has been really helpful, just getting used to everything. The set-up is good. We’ve been training most days, which is nice. It’s a lot more than what I’m used to and it’s a lot more intense.”
Bui, who previously helped her school Erindale College win the NSW Futsal Championship and also won the WNPL Under-17 golden boot award, played eight games for Alabama State two years ago.
The defender is excited about returning to the United States.
“I love my team and enjoying the competitiveness in the Southwestern Athletic Conference competition that is very different to the competition back home,” the 21-year-old said.
“In my freshman year I was the only Aussie on campus. I think I broke a little drought of Aussies on the soccer team. Now we have a new one every year. It’s nice to have familiarity on the team, someone finally gets my slang!"
Norbury hails from the Melbourne suburb of Brighton and played for Box Hill United in the NPL Victoria in 2019.
Described as a box-to-box midfielder, she has also had spells at Bayside United and was selected by the Australian Schoolgirls team in 2017.
“I played in the national championships for Victoria, then I got selected for the Australian schoolgirls team and we came to play in a tournament called the Dallas Cup [in America],” Norbury explained.
“My host family, the father was the owner of the Women’s Premier League club so he asked if I wanted to come back and stay with them and play with them for the summer. I moved over and played in the WPSL team in Dallas, called South Star in May 2019.
“It was a really good experience, and it helped me get used to the college environment.”
Norbury will spend the next four years at Alabama State, but is eyeing a future in Australia’s top flight when she finishes in America.
“I would hope to make the W-League when I come back and finish college,” she said.
“That would be my ultimate goal. Playing in the W-League would be pretty nice.”