NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Spring break for most Stephen F. Austin students is still three weeks away, but Ladyjack soccer player Kylie Louw has an early pass this week. That's because the freshman midfielder from South Africa will be overseas playing with her country's national team in the Cyprus Women's Cup.
The eight-day tournament will feature women's national teams from eight countries: Italy, Scotland, New Zealand and The Netherlands in Group 1; and Canada, England, South Africa and Switzerland in Group 2. The teams will play a three-game, round-robin schedule within their groups before the groups are matched against one another for a seeded finals day on March 3.
For Louw, who captains the team, this will mark her second straight year to participate in the invitation-only tournament.
"We got our first invite last season," she said last week as she was preparing to leave Nacogdoches for the event. "Because we did well, they invited us again."
A year ago, the South African women dropped matches against England and France and defeated Scotland in pool play before losing to The Netherlands in a seeded match-up.
"That was our first time to go against top 10 world teams," Louw said. "We were ranked 56th, so we were playing teams at a much higher standard, but we performed well enough to be invited back. Hopefully, this year we can improve on what we did last year."
Louw and her squad will take on England Wednesday when the tournament opens, then play Switzerland on Friday. The South Africans will wrap up group play on March 1 against Canada then prepare for the finals on March 3.
Louw, who has been playing in the South African national team system since age 16, will be rejoining her teammates for the first time since leaving home to begin her college career at SFA last August. After a travel route that started with a flight out of Austin and included two plane changes — one involving an 11-hour layover in Amsterdam — Louw was due to meet up with her squad on Monday. The team was scheduled for just one practice Tuesday before lacing up the cleats for Wednesday's opener.
"It's going to be very difficult, I think," Louw said when asked about making the transition back to her role on the national team with so little preparation time. "But I know what I expect of myself and I know what they expect of me. It's more mental than anything else. I'll get back into the swing of things with the training session, and, from then on, it's all in your head, I think."
Before leaving, Louw was looking forward to reuniting with her teammates.
"The core of the team is the same as what played in the Cyprus Cup last year," Louw said.
She was also eager to showcase the skills she picked up in her first semester of college soccer. The midfielder led SFA in points after scoring six goals with nine assists. She was named to the First-Team All-Southland Conference squad and earned the league's Freshman of the Year award.
"I've learned a lot of different things about the game," Louw said. "I think most of them, my national team coach is going to be happy about, because most of the things I've been able to focus on here were the weak points in my game that I already knew about before I came over. I'm excited for him to see that I've worked on those things.
"The biggest thing is that I'm more confident with the ball at my feet and working under pressure. That's something I lacked before, and that's probably the biggest thing that I've learned at SFA that will help me with the national team."