Merritt Mathias is like any other 15-year-old Alabaman who already knows where she’s going to college. Wait….what 15-year-old already knows where they’re going to college? Well, if you’re Merritt Mathias you do. And it’s not just any college, it’s women’s soccer powerhouse University of North Carolina, where she can follow in the footsteps of her role model, Mia Hamm, and her hometown hero, Cat Whitehill.
National Team(s): U-17 WNT, U-16 GNT, U-15 GNT
Hometown: Birmingham, Ala.
Club: Vestavia Attack ’88, forward
In the Spotlight
1. When did you get invited into your first camp? What was your reaction?
“I got invited to my first camp when I was 14 with the first U-15 National Camp in September. I started crying when my mom told me, I was so excited.
“We were out of town and we were at the beach. We came home and I went to school the next day and mom was checking our messages and she heard the message. When she picked me up from school she was like, ‘Merritt, guess what?,” and I was like, ‘What?’”
‘You’ve been invited out to California with the U-15 National Team.’ I started laughing, I couldn’t believe it. I was so amazed. I was laughing and crying at the same time.”
2. What did you learn most in your first national team camp?
“I learned most from my first camp that you might think you’re good and you’ve gotten there, but once you get there you realize that if you want to make it in this system, you have to work harder than anyone else. You have to dedicate your time to what your goal is if you want to make it to the top team. That’s what I decided was that this is what I was going to dedicate everything to was soccer because is what I want to do.”
3. Where do you see yourself in five years?
“In five years, well, I’ve already committed to the University of North Carolina so I’ll be playing there. Hopefully, I’ll be playing on the U-20 National Team or, hopefully, the full National Team. I don’t know, but somewhere playing soccer and achieving my goals.”
4. What’s your best soccer moment?
“My best soccer moment would have to be….ah…this is hard…..I think it would have to be playing down in Georgia with the U-16s and scoring down there with them and playing up (an age level) with them, which was pretty exciting. I guess that’s it.”
5. Who’s your favorite U.S. National Team player and why?
“My favorite U.S. National Team player by far is Mia Hamm. She’s my favorite because I’ve always looked up to her since she plays my position and she’s done so much for soccer for girls. She’s done everything she could and has left (soccer) in a much better place than she found it. No one can be like her but someday I hope to achieve some of the stuff that she has.”
6. Being from Birmingham, Ala., also the hometown of WNT defender Cat Whitehill (formerly Cat Reddick), have you been influenced by her at all? Do people make comparisons or bring her up?
“Yes, they do. I mean, Cat Reddick, you have to look up to her. She’s amazing. She’s such a nice person. I’ve looked up to her so much with her going to UNC and making the national team and doing so much that she’s done. And she’s from my hometown, which is awesome. You have to look up to her and I definitely do. She’s so good at what she does and she’s just an amazing person."
7. Most 10th graders haven’t decided what they’re going to wear to prom, let alone where they are going to go to college. What made you pick UNC so soon?
“I think it was because that’s been my dream school to go to ever since I was little, like every other girl, probably. I went up there and I’ve always wanted to go there. I couldn’t imagine not going there. I went up there to visit and I stepped on the campus and just saw myself being there. I love Coach (Chris) Ducar and Coach Anson (Dorrance), they’re amazing people. The team is great. It just felt right so I just went with my gut and that’s where I want to be."
8. What type of music do you listen to, and do you have a favorite band?
“I listen to all types of music. I think variety is great. Usually, to get pumped up for games I listen to rap and stuff but one of my favorite bands is 'The Fray.'”
9. What’s the one thing you can’t leave home without?
“I can’t leave home without my digital camera. I bring my camera wherever I go so I can capture all the great moments when we go on trips or whatever. I always take that with me.”
10. Favorite soccer team in the world and why?
“My favorite soccer team in the world, I guess the U.S. Women’s Team. It has to be. You have to support where you want to go and they’ve come so far and done so much. And, what better than your country to be able to do great things like that? So, definitely the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team."
Do you have a favorite club team?
“I think it would be Arsenal or Man U.”
They’re kind of rivals….
“Yeah, I know. I like Arsenal more, I think. I like (Thierry) Henry, the way he plays. I don’t know, I just like Arsenal.”
11. Who is your favorite soccer player in the world?
“I love watching Ronaldinho play. He’s one of my favorites to watch play. He’s amazing.”
12. Alabama isn’t generally considered a soccer hub, yet you’ve made it to the U.S. U-17 team and have been able to travel around to play. Do your friends ever say anything to you or other people?
“Here, to have someone from Alabama, besides Cat Reddick, who has made it and everything, to be in that process, I get so much support from people I don’t even know. People come up to me and just ask how I’m doing. It’s great because you have the support around you that you didn’t even know you would have. My friends support me. They think it’s amazing and they want to see me do well. My family has been a huge support in giving me everything that I’ve wanted to get here and trying to do everything they can. Coming here, even though it’s a small town, I think it’s given me a lot and it’s been a great place to come from. I love it here and the people have done so much. It’s awesome the way people have supported and cheered me on through the good and the bad.”
13. Does anyone else in your family play sports or has anyone ever played professionally?
“My dad was really big into wrestling throughout high school and college. No one has ever been into soccer. I was the first to pick up soccer and my brother plays soccer now. My mom was athletic throughout high school and college. I picked up soccer just for something to do when I was 5-years-old and have loved it ever since. I’m one of the firsts to start doing this.”