Oct. 21, 2011
By Amy Hughes
Ally Courtnall grew up all over North America.
Her father, Russ Courtnall, spent 16 seasons as a right wing in the National Hockey League, playing over 1,000 career games for Toronto, Montreal, Minnesota, Dallas, Vancouver, New York and Los Angeles.
"I moved around quite a bit," said the UCLA women's soccer freshman about her childhood. "I've lived in Vancouver, moved to Victoria, Texas and New York and then back to Los Angeles but mainly Victoria and L.A."
The oldest of three children, Ally has always played sports, trading off between basketball, softball and soccer as she grew up around various NHL cities.
"I was really into basketball and softball, especially softball," said Courtnall. "I quit both of those sports because I didn't think I was tall enough for basketball, and I didn't really want to play softball anymore. That left me with soccer, and I was just doing that for fun."
Courtnall played some club soccer in Victoria, British Columbia, and would fly over to Vancouver to play for their provincial teams. She was recruited into the Canadian youth soccer program, but that coincided with her family's move to Los Angeles.
"When I started playing on club teams here (in Los Angeles) I realized I was so out of place. The competition here is so much better than anywhere in Canada, so I really had to start working a lot harder."
Under the tutelage of club coach Vince Thomas from the Camarillo Eagles, Courtnall's soccer skills began to blossom.
"We had a couple of girls on our team that had come from that club team before, so we had a history of working with them and seeing them play," said UCLA women's soccer head coach B.J. Snow. "From day one, when she moved back to Southern California, she stood out right away, especially because she had a lot of qualities that you didn't see. She stood out immediately when you watched her play, and we followed her development as she grew up."
A dual citizen, Courtnall has played with both the United States and Canadian national team programs. She has been a pool player with the U.S. Under-17 National Team and played for the U-17 Canadian National Team at both the 2010 World Cup in Trinidad & Tobago and the 2010 CONCACAF World Championship in Costa Rica, which was won by the Canadians.
As her international soccer career blossomed, Courtnall began to explore her school and soccer options beyond high school.
"When I first came [back to the United States], I knew nothing about the whole scholarship thing," said Courtnall. "I had no idea. I was blind to the whole process. Then my freshman year I started looking at schools. [UCLA was] one of the few schools that I did know about, and they were spoken of so highly. I was like `OK, I could never go there. I'm not good enough' so I didn't really put them in my options.
"Then they contacted me my sophomore year. I was so in shock when they showed interest in me. So when [UCLA] showed interest I was completely taken by the whole idea. When I saw the school I fell in love with the campus. The decision was already made once they started talking to me."
Since arriving on campus, Courtnall has been an impact player for the Bruins from the start. Snow and his staff immediately implemented her switch from defense to offense.
"With Canada, she played as an outside back, and with her club team she played as a center back and outside back," said Snow. "We recruited her for her versatility. We knew she could play either of those two positions, but we thought she could also play up top as a forward. She has extreme pace. She is athletically off the charts, but she has a good soccer brain too. She can adapt and play different positions."
"When I got here, the first thing they told me was that they're looking to put me up front," said Courtnall. "That was a little bit of a shock to me, but at the same time I was flattered that they thought I could play up there. It's been a good experience so far. It's a lot different from defense, but it's also a lot of fun."
Courtnall comes naturally by her athletic ability. In addition to her father having an outstanding NHL career, her mother, Rose, was a sprinter.
"He's always been pretty hard on me," said Courtnall of her father. "He's very competitive. It was nothing but the best in my household. I always had to work really hard and had to train very hard, but I was always very hard on myself, so that pushed me to want to be the best and want to get better. My dad competing in the sports world made me want to try hard."
"Certainly, she comes from a great family," said Snow. "She is a very well-rounded human being. I think it was a point with her parents that it wasn't just going to be about athletics, she can do a lot of other things. She is very mature for her age, she's good academically. I think her parents made a decision that they wanted her to be exposed to a lot of different cultures and all sorts of different things, and I think you really see that in her personality."
All of those experiences have prepared Courtnall for an important role for one of the country's top soccer programs as a true freshman.
"I love it," said Courtnall of her UCLA experience thus far. "It's been such a great experience. It's nice having such a big freshman class. We all hang out. We all get along, and it makes the process so much easier because there are so many people to give you comfort and make you feel good. The experience has been awesome, and we've had such a good season so far."