Fennell's Hard Work Paying Off
Oct. 15, 2002
Watching Ali Fennell sprint down the soccer field gives you the sense that she has a purpose behind each run. If you ask the senior co-captain of the USC women's soccer team, she will probably tell you it's because her collegiate career is coming to a close.
'I have thought about it and it's sad and scary at the same time,' said Fennell. 'I'm trying to make it the best I can. I just want to take everything in and play to my fullest potential.'
Ali came to USC after a stellar career at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., where she earned three-time (1997-99) All-CIF Southern Section Division II first team honors. She played the first three seasons as a midfielder for the Trojans. This season, Fennell added her speed as a defender, but was moved to a forward position to aid the offense.
In her freshman and sophomore seasons with the Women of Troy, Fennell earned All-Pac-10 second team honors. She is not a vocal leader, but rather uses her work ethic and play on the field to motivate her teammates.
'I think it's important and they look to me to do that,' said Fennell. 'Everyone may be tired, for example, when we are doing some conditioning on the track, but if my teammates see me working hard then everyone steps up a level. I think we have good balance on the team this year. I think the younger players look to me and Megan Abbamonto as the hard-working type on the field while Jessica Edwards and Nikki Goza are the one who will encourage them.'
She has started in every game during her career as a Trojan and will have the opportunity this season to put herself in the top five all-time scoring list.
Ali's parents knew early on that she would be a special athlete.
'I got started at the age of five and it was only because everyone else in the neighborhood was involved in it,' said Fennell. 'My father was a die-hard baseball fan and he signed me up for softball and I kicked and screamed because I didn't want to do it. I have always enjoyed soccer because it was always a lot of fun to me.'
'My parents told me they knew when I was in the Girl Scout Olympics at the age of five. We ran in a relay and I was the anchor in case our team fell behind which we did. We went from dead last to second and that's when my parents realized that they should sign me up for sports.'
When Ali plays any game, it means her parents, Rick and Irma, are in the stands to provide valuable support. Since she was a youngster, Ali has always been able to count on seeing her parents.
'Having them there for every game is very important to me,' said Fennell. 'It's not right if they are not there and it just makes it complete. My father is my personal coach and I get the instructive criticism from him more than my mother after a game. It's just a part of how I have grown up as a player and they have really influenced me. My father has really been a factor in terms of the player I am now.'
When Ali first started at USC, there was no hope for her to further her career on a professional level. That changed last year with the creation of the Women's United Soccer Association and becoming a pro player is a possibility for her.
'I don't know if it's something I want to do long-term, but definitely an option I want to explore,' said Fennell. 'Having the experience of being a professional athlete and getting paid for something I have been doing since I was young would be quite nice. It's an amazing opportunity and if I have that chance, I can't pass it up.'
She is not the only one who believes she can progress to the next level.
'I think Ali has the potential to play in the WUSA,' said USC head coach Jim Millinder. 'She has improved to the next level because she has demanded that of herself. She is perhaps our fittest player and highly competitive. She can go as far as she wants if she continues to work hard.'
Her success on the field can also be seen in the classroom, making her a true student-athlete. Despite dealing with the fall season and demanding spring schedule that features several scrimmages on the road, Fennell has maintained a 3.57 grade-point-average and is majoring in communications. The demands can be difficult on a young person, but she has been able to provide balance in her life.
'I think you need to make sure that you have some social time and time to rest,' said Fennell. 'Sometimes it's hard, but you have to create priorities with your classes and practice time.'
Her time at USC has been rewarding and she has been able to create some lasting bonds with teammates.
'I think Stephanie (Scholl) and Jackie (Fodor) will be life-long friends for me,' said Fennell. 'It comes with being in the same recruiting class and doing a number of activities together. I think I will be able to keep in touch with a lot of my teammates in the future.'
After a four-year career, Fennell has been able to understand the impact of what it means to wear a jersey that bears the letters USC on the front.
'It's a sense of pride and it's a part of who you are,' said Fennell. 'You are a Trojan forever. It's as simple as that.'
As her Trojan career comes to a close, Ali Fennell knows now that every sprint on the field does not mean the finish line is approaching. It means a long road lies ahead.