Aly Morell had a decision to make entering her freshman year of high school.
She could play for the New Britain High’s girls, her hometown team, or she could continue her education in Hartford and go to University High.
Never one to back down from something, she made the hard choice. And it paid off.
“It was definitely a hard decision to give up the girls team at New Britain to come here,” Morell said recently after completing her senior year with University, which co-ops with Prince Tech. “But it was the best decision ever. I do not regret it ever.”
Morell, a defensive midfielder, knew she would be getting into the deep water physically, particularly when she first started playing with the boys as a freshman. She had played with her father and brother, but this was different. Like anything new, however, it got easier over time.
After a few games, once she realized her physical disadvantage wasn’t too big a factor, she settled in nicely.
“It was definitely scary, but as a freshman every game is scary,” Morell said. “When I’m on the field I know what I need to do, so my nerves go away once the whistle blows. It took probably a month to feel fully confident.”
After some initial apprehension, Morell’s parents were on board with her playing against the guys, and it didn’t take long for her to prove herself able.
“Once I scored my first goal I knew I could compete,” she said.
The first thought when hearing a girl is playing against boys is to wonder if the size difference would be too great, particularly at Morell’s position, where she is battling for 50/50 balls as a defender.
As she continued to play, however, Morell realized the difference in speed would be a more difficult obstacle to overcome.
“I’ve always been a big girl,” Morell said. “I’ve gone against big girls. I use my body a lot. Definitely speed is a bigger difference than the physical one. I thought going in the physical would be the toughest, but I figured out how I can compete with them. It’s the speed that I wasn’t where the boys are. I have to use my instincts more. I have to get there before the guys do.”
One of the important factors in Morell’s comfort level is knowing “her boys” as she calls them, would get to her immediately if someone did try to take advantage of her with a dirty play.
“They would test her,” Morell’s coach, John Lowney, said. “They would figure out that’s not going to work. That actually happened in the state tournament. An opponent took a cheap shot and two or three guys ran right up in there, as they would have done for any other player. We have a close-knit group here.”
Lowney was impressed with how well Morell has fit in with the boys, and thinks her skill level helped the process immensely. Morell isn’t a charity case. She can play.
“She’s out there on her own merit, it’s not a give away,” he said. “It was very common for her to get a goal from 30 yards In the beginning it’s kind of unique. As time went on she became one of the guys. She can play and she handles herself well. They don’t even look at her as a girl.”
Morell blended in with her group so well she has become one of its leaders.
“She has a lot of spirit. She’s honest with people. She’ll express her opinion. She’s fun to be around,” Lowney said. “You see her in school and she’s well respected by her peers. She’s socially and emotionally mature. She’s pretty well-rounded.”
College coaches are picking up on these traits. Morell is looking at Springfield College among others, and frequently got requests for her schedule. That’s the only time confusion about her status showed itself.
“They’ll say ‘oh no, you sent me the boys schedule’,” Morell said. “Then I remind them I play with the boys.”
Off the field, Morell is a girl. She likes getting to catch up with her girlfriends, something she especially needed as this season went on.
On the field, however, and with her team at University, she’s one of the guys, which couldn’t be more of a compliment.
“My boys took me in as one of their own,” Morell said. “At away games the boys will always be staring at me like, ‘what is she doing here?’”
And then she shows them. Morell is playing soccer, the way she always has.
This story first appeared in the New Britain Herald, a media partner of CTLatinoNews.com