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Two soccer players pose against a Boston skyline backdrop.

Players’ international experience provides boost for Northeastern women’s soccer team

Northeastern freshman defender Sabrina Araujo-Elorza (right) played for Venezuela last summer and senior midfielder Alexis Legowski is on her way to representing Poland. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

It happened quickly. Sabrina Araujo-Elorza was a high school senior in suburban Miami when she was invited last winter to try out for the Venezuelan national team. She made her whirlwind international debut last month at the Copa América women’s soccer tournament in Colombia.

“I never really thought about it as a dream because I didn’t think it was possible,” says Araujo-Elorza, who recently arrived at Northeastern as an incoming freshman defender. “I wanted to be on the [national] team and I always thought, wow, that’d be so cool. But I didn’t spend too much time thinking about it until it actually happened.”

The Huskies open their season at 7 p.m. Thursday at Boston University (available for streaming on ESPN+) and their team leaders include another player with international experience. Alexis Legowski, a senior midfielder who has earned all-star recognition regionally and in the Colonial Athletic Association over the past two seasons, has made international appearances for Poland’s youth teams—and hopes to play for the senior side soon.

Northeastern coach Ashley Phillips says those experiences at the sport’s highest level provide a boost as the Huskies seek to build on last year’s run to the CAA championship final.

“It exposes them to the elevated speed of play,” says Phillips, who is launching her seventh season at Northeastern. “They’re playing against people that play in professional leagues, so they’re not overwhelmed by the speed or the physicality. They’re not as nervous too.”

The two Huskies were born in the U.S. and qualified for the national teams by way of their parents’ ancestry. Legowski’s father played soccer in Poland and encouraged her at a young age.

“It’s kind of like the first thing I knew how to do—like before I started talking, I always had a ball at my feet,” says Legowski, a business administration major who was raised in South Hadley, Massachusetts. “So it’s similar, because that’s how he grew up in Poland.”

Legowski’s travels for international youth competitions have taken her to Poland, Britain, Spain, Germany and other countries. 

“The soccer in Europe is a different level,” Legowski says. “It’s a lot quicker. The communication is fast. Everyone’s really tough.”

Legowski’s background in Europe enhanced her maturity as an incoming freshman who started every game in 2019. She has evolved into a creative and versatile midfielder of whom much is asked by her coaches.

“I think she respects and appreciates that, and as a coach it’s really nice that you can hold her to her own standard,” Phillips says. “She’s been writing me: ‘How can I be better? How can I help us win games?’ That type of character is why she’ll continue to be successful.”

The blend of experience and incoming talent makes for an intriguing team. Phillips says Araujo-Elorza’s experiences with Venezuela have helped her adapt quickly as a freshman at Northeastern.

“When she had an opportunity to make the [Venezuela] roster, we talked a lot about just enjoying the moment, enjoying the experience and don’t have any expectations—except that you belong there,” Phillips says. “She’s very driven, hardworking and self-motivated.”

Araujo-Elorza and her 20-year-old sister, Alai (a midfielder and forward at the University of Chicago), tried out and then competed together for Venezuela’s under-20 team. Fluency in Spanish helped Araujo-Elorza pick up the terminology of the national team’s system. She made her senior debut on July 18 as a second-half substitute in a 4-0 loss to Brazil at the Copa América in Colombia.

“You saw what put her in that environment: She’s composed on the ball, she works really hard defensively, she’s physically capable and competes at a high level,” Phillips says of her half-hour performance against Brazil. “There’s nerves and probably a lot of overthinking in a game like that. It’s a big stage, it can be an overwhelming environment and I thought she did well for the situation.”

Araujo-Elorza could hear teammates cheering for her from the sideline as she worked to keep up with the Brazilians, who were on their way to a fourth-straight Copa America title.

“Their physicality is just astounding, their touch, their speed of play,” she says. “It was definitely a good experience and a good learning moment for me.”

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