Danielle Meuret is a sophomore soccer player for the Southern Utah Thunderbirds. Danielle was an aspiring prospect in junior soccer before an array of severe setbacks forced her soccer path to take some unexpected turns. In this interview, learn more about Danielle’s story and how she ended up with the Thunderbirds.
Danielle, thank you very much for making some time to share your story with us. Why don’t you start telling us a little bit about your first experiences with soccer?
I didn’t really start playing soccer until I was nine years old. In the beginning, it was more like a hobby and not necessarily something I took too seriously. When I got into 8th grade, I even took a year off and trained on my own. Once I started high school, however, soccer became my life. I know I was a little late to the game at that point but that didn’t stop me from beginning to dream of playing Division I soccer, attending a really big school, and becoming a professional soccer player.
How did those dreams evolve?
In my freshman year, I started being exposed to first competition on lower-level teams. I played junior varsity and in the Elite Girls Soccer League before joining Strikers FC, an Elite Girls National League team in Orange County. I couldn’t stop thinking about my dreams and I chased after them vigorously. Soccer quickly became my life and once I joined Strikers FC, I felt the confidence to turn all my dreams into reality.
But unfortunately, things came differently than expected. During a soccer game in December, I tried to reach for a ball with my leg. The goalkeeper dove to do the same and squished my entire knee below her. The diagnosis: I broke my knee. That injury sidelined me for over a year and I was convinced that I had lost all opportunities for a Div I scholarship.
Oh wow, the pain must have been excruciating. How did you recover from that?
Once I was able to get back on the field during my junior year of high school, I actually did receive a few offers from Division I schools which was very exciting (and surprising) at that moment. But that excitement didn’t last for too long.
Due to a family emergency, I was forced to move states and start the journey all over. I was moving out to Colorado and due to differing high school schedules in Colorado and California, I thought I once again ruined my odds of playing for any Div I school.
Ultimately, you could say that I lost out on getting recruited my entire sophomore and junior year of high school which are two of the most important years in college soccer recruiting. Most premier schools have their rosters filled by that time.
This certainly sounds like a very challenging time in your life. How did you reconnect with soccer?
I ended up not really getting back to soccer until the end of my junior year. That family situation was really hard on me and I had still not 100% recovered from my knee injury. But despite not playing the best soccer and struggling both mentally and physically, I was still going after my dreams. I continued to work as hard as I could and do whatever it took to achieve them.
One day, I received the opportunity to move back to California with a friend. Since I still wanted to explore the opportunity to play for a Pac-12 school, I decided to graduate high school a year early and settled back down in California.
There, I played club soccer for Slammers ECNL in Newport Beach under coach Ziad Khoury. Ironically, shortly after being back in California, I received a phone call from my old coach in Colorado who asked me if I’d be interested in talking to the head coach for Mississippi State in the SEC.
Of course, I wouldn’t say no to such an opportunity. Right before I was supposed to play in front of the Mississippi State coach, I busted my ankle really badly and was once again worried about my career. I could not kick a ball with my left foot and even had my friend tape my ankle. Fortunately, I was able to play decently enough through the pain to attract his interest. Afterwards, we connected and eventually, I finally achieved one of my dreams – I signed with a Division I soccer team.
Congratulations on that achievement despite all your challenges. Tell us more about your time with the Bulldogs.
I absolutely loved Mississippi State and the SEC. For a freshman, I got a lot of substantial playing time and I tried to evolve a little bit as a team leader. I continued to work as hard as I could and really saw my soccer career prosper.
Unfortunately, once again, my life took a different turn. During my freshman season, I found out that my mother had a heart attack. I was informed about that incident while she was getting into open heart surgery. This set up a series of “unfortunate” events that eventually forced me to transfer. It was a very difficult decision as I really loved my teammates, the school, and the conference. But at the end of the day, I felt like it was the best thing for my personal and athletic career. I have to admit that it was problematic to maintain a positive mindset about soccer. I have had so many setbacks by that time and I lost a little bit of that fire inside of me. As a result, I didn’t engage with soccer for an entire semester.
Which seems very reasonable. Very sorry to hear about all these challenges. Luckily, we know that you started another chapter in your soccer career. How did you end up at Southern Utah?
My best friend Brianna Aldridge went through a similar situation. We both didn’t know what to do with our athletic careers but it was actually her dad that animated us to not give up. Both of them had a huge impact on my life and if it wasn’t for them, I certainly would not be where I am at today.
Her dad connected both of us to Southern Utah. We visited the Thunderbirds and immediately fell in love. The coach and the girls really sealed the deal quite quickly. They were all so polite and caring which made us feel like being a part of a team again. While I may not be the same soccer player I used to be a couple of years ago, this is the exact environment I want to be in and I’m incredibly grateful for this opportunity. At this point, I am just excited to be playing again and am eager to see what the next year will bring.
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