Outerbridge brings culture, experience to WKU soccer team

Junior forward Mallory Outerbridge battles to protect the ball against Minnesota senior defender Kylie Kallman during their match on Sunday at the WKU Soccer Complex. Outerbridge was credited with the Lady Toppers’ only goal, a corner kick in the 80th minute.

M. Blake Harrison

Mallory Outerbridge didn’t have a choice. The now-junior forward for WKU had to grow up quickly, as she began playing semi-professional soccer at age 16.

Outerbridge, who came to WKU after being recruited by then-Ottawa Fury teammate and now-former WKU Assistant Coach Leisha Alcia, was the first international student athlete in program history.

Because the recruiting process starts much later in Canada than it does in the U.S., WKU was able to land Outerbridge, who Head Coach Jason Neidell said was a top-15 international recruit the year she graduated high school.

“When we recruited her, it was great for us because we didn’t have that much competition,” Neidell said. “To sprinkle (the team) with a little bit of a cultural personality and players from other areas is a blessing for us.”

Outerbridge’s commitment came only after a specific guarantee was sent her way.

She has been a part of the Canadian national teams specific to her age group since she was 15, and Outerbridge was not about to give that up.

Though she’s not contractually obligated to suit up for Canada, Outerbridge said team officials can and will call expecting players to be ready to uproot within 48 hours.

“Every time I get to put on a jersey that says Canada on it, I’m pumped,” she said.

Neidell made good on his word after Outerbridge’s freshman year — a year that saw her tie for the team lead in points and goals — when he granted her a redshirt so she could train with her national team as it prepared for the FIFA World Cup.  

He said the advantages of having Outerbridge as a 22-year-old senior playing against, in some cases, 17-year-olds, were reassuring.

“I’m not going to stand in the way of that because I think it comes back to you tenfold.”   

The decision to redshirt is one that Outerbridge said she doesn’t regret, even though the journey didn’t end like she imagined it would.

Just three weeks before the World Cup, an entirely new coaching staff was put in place, and she was one of 11 players replaced.

Hardships like that make it easier to deal with the adversity that comes with adjusting to American college soccer, Outerbridge said.

“College is faster,” she said. “Everyone on the team is athletic. The difference is, at the international level, everyone can play soccer. At college not everyone can play soccer — they can run and defend you … it’s totally different.”

Even so, sophomore forward Laura Ray said she assumes that Outerbridge is often a bit anxious while everybody else catches up.

“I’m sure that at times it gets a little frustrating knowing that she’s kind of having to go backwards and help the team, but I think she’s actually really enjoying it,” Ray said. “She’s definitely a coach on the field.” 

Replacing starters can be tough on any team, but replacing their roster spots with underclassmen presents a new challenge.

This year’s team, having a combined 18 true freshmen and sophomores, can most certainly use Outerbridge’s expertise.

“I already knew what to expect coming in as a freshman because I had been basically a freshman and a rookie on a team with a bunch of 25-year-olds,” she said. “I do feel like there’s a constant eye on me for everything.”

Knowing that, it doesn’t even cross Ray’s mind to second guess a teammate who’s spent years playing at a high level.

“I would never question her,” Ray said. “There’s no point … She knows what she’s doing.”