Mallory Pugh is an American soccer player who will be competing in the Rio 2016 Olympics with the U.S. women’s soccer team. At the age of 18, she is one of the youngest Americans ever to compete in the Olympics.
However, age is nothing but a number, as this powerhouse has the skills of a much more experienced player.
She grew up in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, practicing her soccer juggling skills in her garage, and has been a fan of the sport since she was in kindergarten.
Here are five more facts you need to know about the athlete.
1. She’s Been Playing With the U.S. Women’s National Team Since January 2016
Pugh made her senior-team debut on January 23; she scored 25 minutes into the game. During that game she became the youngest American to appear in 11 years, according to The New Yorker.
Since then, she’s appeared in 14 of the “red-white-and-blues’ 15 games—including ten starts—and notched a team-high seven assists to go along with three goals,” says The New Yorker.
“When I first got the call, I was kind of just in shock,” Pugh, who was on a flight home with her parents to Colorado when U.S. coach Jill Ellis called to give her the news, told the New York Post. “I was super-excited just because I knew that all the hard work that I’ve put in over the past few months has been rewarded. And then I was like, ‘Oh gosh, this is real.’ ”
Pugh’s mother, Karen, recalled it differently.
She wasn’t trying to act too excited. She was like, ‘Well, I’ll tell you after the flight,’ just jokingly. Then she just put her Beats on, her hood up and slept for the next two hours.
2. Pugh Is the 2nd Youngest American Player Ever to Travel to the Olympics
When she plays in the Rio games, Pugh will be the second youngest American to compete in the history of the U.S. women’s soccer team and the second youngest player to travel to the Olympics. Cindy Parlow was a month younger in 1996.
Before this, she played in the Under-20 Women’s World Cup.
3. She’s Been Called the Next Mia Hamm
In a profile on the player, the Denver Post compared Pugh to one of the greatest female soccer players of all time, Mia Hamm:
She is the next Mia Hamm. Check that. With a little luck and a whole lot of determination, the mind-bending, ankle-breaking ball skills of Pugh could make her a more dominant player than Hamm. And all Hamm did was start a soccer revolution among girls in America who dreamed of conquering the world’s most popular sport.
The best part is, Hamm is a big fan herself. She tweeted her awe of the young star recently:
4. She Is the 6th Youngest Goal Scorer in U.S. History
Another thing that happened during her debut with the national team? She became the sixth-youngest goal scorer in U.S. history.
How is she so good at such a young age? U.S. co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn told the New Yorker what distinguishes Pugh is “the way she uses her quickness and technical skill to create the time and space to deliver pinpoint passes that put her teammates in goal-scoring situations.”
Her ability to take players on and get end line and play quality crosses in the box has been world class. Since then, she’s added different layers to her game.
5. She’s Going to U.C.L.A. After the Olympics
Mallory just graduated from Mountain Vista High School, and is now 18 years old. She was unable to play on her high school team because of her national team commitments, she still attended games and team dinners, but sat on the bench, according to the New York Post.
Before that, Pugh led Mountain Vista to a state title as a freshman, and was recognized as the 2014-15 Gatorade National Player of the Year after recording 24 goals and 12 assists in just 18 games as a junior, reports the New York Post.
Pugh almost went pro right out of high school, which would have made her the first American women’s soccer player to bypass college for the National Women’s Soccer League, the New York Post notes. However, she’s decided to go to college. The New Yorker reports that she will begin her freshmen year at UCLA in January, 2017.