Rachel Hignett diversifies Mizzou soccer as the lone international player

Hignett is looking to bring her skill set across the Atlantic from Wales to Missouri.
Missouri Tigers midfield Rachel Hignett (8) dribbles the ball against a Kentucky Wildcats player at the Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Stadium in Lexington, Ky. Courtesy of MU Athletics

The first time Missouri coach Bryan Blitz saw junior midfielder Rachel Hignett, she was dominating the player that Blitz was supposed to be recruiting.

At the time, Blitz was looking into recruiting an English international player. It was only with sheer luck that he stumbled upon Hignett.

“The Internet is great, right?” Blitz said. “I was recruiting a kid from England that was on the national team and was an Arsenal player and I saw in Rachel’s tapes and I just felt like, ‘Oh my God, that kid from Wales is killing that other kid and outplaying her.’”

In the tape Blitz watched, Hignett was proudly wearing the national uniform of her home country: Wales.

Hignett is from a town of about 2,000 people called Llandough, which sits on the southern edge of Wales. Her career has taken her from her small local team in Wales to Bristol Academy WFC in England. Now, she’s a junior at Missouri, where she is the only international player on the Missouri soccer team.

After Blitz saw the tape, he began recruiting Hignett, who was originally intent on starting her collegiate career in 2014. Blitz offered her a place with the Tigers in 2013.

“Rachel wrote me on an email, and she wanted to come a year later, and we had room for her, and I said, ‘Hey, would you ever consider coming now?’” Blitz said. “I think it caught her by surprise, and that wasn’t her initial plan, but for whatever reason it worked for her, and she came in a year early.”

For Hignett, Blitz’s offer was one she couldn’t refuse. “I emailed Bryan saying, ‘I want to come out in 2014,’ and he said, ‘Why don’t you come out in 2013?’ which was a year early for me, and I was like, ‘Hey, why not?’” Hignett said. “The school I was doing back home, you don’t need it for over here, so I had already done the test to get out here. So I just went for it, and I came on a visit here and really loved it.”

A major part of Hignett being interested in coming to America for soccer stems from her older brother, James, who played tennis for New Mexico from 2011-14. He encouraged Hignett when she was trying to decide if moving to America was the right choice for what she wanted to accomplish in her soccer career.

“I have a brother who went to the University of New Mexico, and speaking to him, he was saying that it was an opportunity I couldn’t miss,” Hignett said.

When she first arrived on campus, Hignett was faced with an array of challenges. Luckily for her, the fellow freshmen on the team were always there for her.

“I think freshman year, Bryan was a bit worried about me because he always used to phone up the other freshmen and be like, ‘Hey, do you know how Rachel is?’” Hignett said. “They’d always be looking out for me and making sure I was OK, and if I needed anything, they would be the first to take me anywhere I wanted to go and do anything with me. My class really helped when I came in because they were always there for me.”

An entirely separate challenge for Hignett came when she stepped onto the field. Despite being well-versed in the European model of soccer, Hignett found out that the American version is a whole different beast.

“Her soccer sophistication is something that is unique for our team,” Blitz said. “That’s the European model. They learn that and they grow and North America’s (style) is a little more athletic. You know, bigger, stronger, faster. I think she’s been trying to accumulate that to her game. In Europe they let you have more time on the ball, it’s a less athletic but more cerebral game.”

As a result, it has taken time for Hignett to adjust. Now in her junior year, Hignett is still coming off the bench for the Tigers, mostly playing in the midfield when she sees time.

“She’s in a tough spot,” Blitz said. “She’s always fighting against good players. That’s why she came. I think her play has gotten better and better and better, but just like all of our players, it’s hard to get on the field and her strengths have to be better than somebody else’s strengths.”

When Hignett does come onto the field, her role varies.

“I feel like my role is always changing,” Hignett said. “In some games, I’m playing more than others, so it’s been hard to adapt to the playing style, so I feel like in some games I’m utilized more because of the way the other team plays and how we want to play against them.”

As she continues on into her junior year and eventually her final year at Missouri, Hignett hopes that her hard work will pay off.

“Right now (I) just (want) to get more time, and then senior year just to get a few starts,” Hignett said. “I just want to progress with my skills and my development so when I leave here I can become a better player than when I came in and continue to develop my game.”

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