Football Fern Ava Collins is back on home turf next week ahead of the U20 FIFA Women's World Cup in Costa Rica in August.
Collins, 20, currently plays football in the USA for St John's University Red Storm, an NCAA division one team. With four senior international caps to her name, she has been named as a nominee for New Zealand Football's Young Player of the Year award.
Collins speaks to Bonnie Jansen about her rise in the sport, playing in America and the Football Ferns system.
How long have you played football and at what point did you decide you wanted to take it to that next level?
Football has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It runs in my family line with my grandad, dad, his four brothers, and my brother all playing. But I guess you could say I began the female side of this lineage. I began playing club football at 12 while still playing other sports. I decided to take it more seriously when I got into the FFDP (Future Ferns Development Programme) and realised I could really do something with it.
Why did you decide to take the US college football pathway?
It's a great stepping stone towards professional football and such an awesome opportunity. It allows you to get a degree, travel and play football all at the same time, which was too attractive to deny, especially for someone from New Zealand.
How do the football systems and style of play in the US system differ to New Zealand?
The style of play is quite different to back home. Americans play a direct style. It's high paced and intense, which I really like. In New Zealand we play a more European-style, looking to combine and create which is great too. Having both styles has helped my game.
What do you remember about your first cap for the Football Ferns?
It was huge. I remember standing at the halfway line waiting to sub on and being next to Jordyn Huitema (Canada and Paris Saint-Germain). She came on for Christine Sinclair (Portland Thorns FC) and I remember thinking this is so surreal - these are people I've watched on TV for years. I'm now here in the game. The crowd of 26,000 was alive and it was nerve-wracking but I think when I got on, I just tried to do as much as I could. Overall, it was such an amazing experience.
What is the Football Ferns environment like?
The Ferns' environment is competitive, professional and enjoyable. It's awesome to be in a group that all push each other to be the best versions of ourselves. But, we are like a family who love and support each other on and off the field in all areas of life.
What's one of the highlights of your time in camp so far?
When we won our second game against South Korea. It was my first start, which was incredible in itself. Then we went on to win the game 2-0. They are a good team with some amazing players, but we really implemented all the things we wanted to focus on and it was great to see the team come together like that.
What advice would you give to a younger player looking to follow that same United States college pathway?
Just do it! The opportunity has changed my life in so many ways and allowed me to grow as a person. If you're contemplating going, my advice would be to just try it, give it a shot and if it's not for you, you can always come back. But it's something you won't regret giving a shot.
What are the next steps for you?
I'm heading back to New Zealand in a week for the first time in a year which is exciting. It'll be so great to see friends and family. But I'm mainly coming back to prepare for the U20 World Cup in Costa Rica in August. I'm so excited to finally get the opportunity to play at a World Cup since I've missed a few chances in the past, due to Covid. So that's the main focus for the near future.