DURHAM — Imagine that you're an international student adjusting to life as a first-year in college. You're getting used to dorm life, familiarizing yourself with campus and a new country, finding your classes and making friends in a new environment.
And, finally, add into the mix that you’re immediately thrown into the starting 11 of a top-10 soccer team whose season is already starting to get into full swing and asked to compete against players who have had a full preseason to prepare.
For first-years Alessia Russo and Lotte Wubben-Moy, these daunting circumstances have been their realities. Since joining North Carolina's women’s soccer team, the two England natives have endured a whirlwind these past couples of weeks.
Despite all this, they’ve hit the ground running, earning special praise from head coach Anson Dorrance for their performances early in the season. Dorrance isn’t taking any credit for their hot start. Instead, he's insisting that the mentality of the two athletes is responsible for their success on the field.
“I think they’re very mature,” he said after Sunday’s 2-0 home win over UNC-Wilmington. “They’re wonderful human beings. Their heads aren’t that big, they’re incredibly humble, their talent is off the charts … and I feel absolutely spoiled to have both of them.”
Russo, on the other hand, credits her teammates with helping her settle in.
“I think the girls welcomed us so much,” she said. “It’s so refreshing to hear. Everyone’s talking to you, everyone’s getting behind you … it’s such a team environment.”
For Wubben-Moy, it’s simply business as usual.
“I think football is football, wherever you are in the world,” she said. “And that mainly does the talking when you’re on the pitch.”
Many on this side of the Atlantic think of an entirely different sport when they hear the word “football.” Casual soccer fans have probably heard of the two players’ previous clubs. Russo, a childhood Manchester United fan (despite being from Kent, England), played for Chelsea Football Club’s Ladies team from 2010 to 2016, working her way up the ranks from the reserves into the first team before moving to Brighton and Hove Albion WFC this January.
Wubben-Moy, a London native and self-described “gooner," made her full debut with the Arsenal Ladies team at the age of 16, and she has made 12 appearances for that squad since. In addition, both players have represented England as youth internationals, with Wubben-Moy captaining England’s Ladies U17 team to a third place finish at the UEFA Women's European Finals.
Perhaps with such impressive résumés, it should be no surprise that the two players have found success early in the season. Their form certainly showed no signs of slowing down on Sunday against UNCW, as Russo notched an assist on a nice cross that found the head of Bridgette Andrzejewski on the edge of the six-yard box, and Wubben-Moy contributed 26 minutes to an eventual clean sheet for the Tar Heels’ defense before being forced off with a minor injury.
The two haven’t been given any time to rest, however, as the games are coming at them fast. On Thursday, the Tar Heels take on a top-five Penn State team which Dorrance called "maybe the best team in the country on paper."