COLUMBIA — It’s the same game Rachel Hignett has played for as long as she can remember, but she’s learning a new way to play it at Missouri.
After competing internationally for Wales and in the top women’s professional league in England, the Tigers’ freshman midfielder saw an opportunity to improve her game by playing collegiately in the U.S.
“I achieved everything that I wanted to back home, and I had a really successful year, so I thought I needed a new challenge,” Hignett said.
Hignett earned four caps for Bristol Academy WFC last season in the FA Women’s Super League, the top professional league in Europe. She also played more than 30 times for Wales’ youth national teams before appearing with the senior national team for the first time in January. She’s played three more games for the senior national team since then.
She chose Missouri after her older brother James, a tennis player at New Mexico, told her the Tigers were one of the country's best programs. Hignett then contacted Tigers coach Brian Blitz.
Blitz said Hignett’s recruitment was “unique” because rarely does an international player contact him. He believes Hignett has the potential to make an impact at his program, but he has seen her experience a difficult transition period.
Hignett is still adjusting to a new style of play and living in a foreign country.
“It’s a work in progress,” Blitz said. “Every day, it gets better."
Hignett did not arrive in Columbia until early September after playing for the Under-19 Wales youth national team competing in the UEFA Women’s Championship in mid-August. She arrived over a month after most of her Missouri teammates began training in July.
“Just a normal college freshman has a learning curve," Blitz said. "For where she came in late in the season, she’s done remarkably well.”
Since then, the coaching staff has tried to help its young midfielder transition to the collegiate style of play.
“The international game is so much different, especially the European game,” Blitz said. “They allow you more time on the ball. It’s a little more sophisticated; a more skill-set game, where the American game is definitely more athletic.”
Blitz said that what Hignett lacks in physicality, she makes up for with her ability to think through the game.
“What she brings to us is that soccer intellect,” Blitz said. “She has a great soccer brain. She’s probably a little further ahead than some of our American players.”
Hignett said her soccer brain comes from experience she received playing professionally and internationally.
“When it comes to tough games, I’ve been chucked in the deep end,” she said. “Things don’t really get to me because I’ve been there for a lot of tough situations.”
Despite only playing 75 minutes total over four games this season, Hignett remains optimistic about her future as a Tiger and hopes to be a consistent contributor.
“I know that if I’m not getting picked, there must be something I can work on,” Hignett said. “When I do get my chance, hopefully I’ll be ready.”
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