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  • Writer's pictureDaniele Proch

NCFC Insider: Last-round pick Addisyn Merrick's rise to prominence

Addisyn Merrick started as a right-back for the North Carolina Courage in the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup. How did she, a last-round pick at this year’s draft, manage to climb up the hierarchy of the most successful NWSL club so quickly?

Last February, when the 2019 National Women’s Soccer League reigning champions reported for their first preseason training, North Carolina Courage rookie Addisyn Merrick was in shock. The amount of talent surrounding her on the training ground of WakeMed Soccer Park was so exceptional that the 22-year-old defender began questioning if she belonged on that pitch.

“I am so bad,” Merrick remembers thinking. “This is so embarrassing.”

After spending four seasons as a “Jayhawk” for the Kansas University Women’s Soccer team in Lawrence, Kan., the NWSL draft’s fourth-round pick now found herself catapulted onto a football pitch rife with players with international experience, including eight World Cup winners. It did not take long for her to realize that she had to step up her game if she ever hoped to get any playing time in this highly-competitive roster. More specifically, she noticed that there was too wide of a technical gap separating the level of her football skills from the one showcased by her colleagues in blue.

“I need to improve to keep up with the drills,” she would nervously repeat to herself.

The postponement of the NWSL season due to Covid-19 allowed Merrick to fly home at the beginning of March. Here, her enthusiasm for the game could have easily dissolved into the dull quarantine days. Instead, Merrick made the conscious decision to use the break as the perfect opportunity to work on her individual footballing deficiencies.

It is hard for athletes to push themselves in training when nobody is watching, let alone the fact that the Courage players were left in the dark as to whether an NWSL season would be played at all in 2020. Merrick, however, had a specific reason for putting in the extra work during quarantine: Never again did she want to experience that feeling of uneasiness on the football pitch.

What was supposed to be a relaxing quarantine at home with her family in Lee’s Summit, Missouri turned into an intense six-week training camp.

“I busted my butt during the Covid break,” Merrick said laughing.

She first had to overcome the challenge of finding a field, as Covid-19 safety protocols gradually shut down high school fields, parks, and virtually any green space that she was planning to adopt for her training sessions. After a tenacious scavenger hunt, she eventually found a place to host her “two-a-days.”

For the first couple of weeks, Merrick explained, the training focused on improving her relationship with the ball with drills like slaloming through the cones, juggling with every part of the body, and passing using both feet. The intensity of the training escalated when the team gave her notice that she had to report back to Cary at the beginning of May.

Now, Merrick introduced high-pace activities in her morning training by going on bike rides and completing six-mile runs before turning her attention to the football. The main concept, she explained, was to get herself physically exhausted before getting into technical drills with the ball. By doing this, she was able to replicate the feeling of tiredness that players endure in the later stages of a game.

“This way,” she said. “I got my legs used to playing when I’m tired.”

Sometimes, Merrick would get creative and come up with indoor training sessions. She transformed her basement into a mini gym for weight lifting, bodyweight workouts, and cardiovascular sessions on the treadmill. Once again, it was only when she felt out of breath that she would pick up the ball and start juggling in her basement. Here, her touch had to be especially clean to avoid damaging the furniture around her.

Today, Merrick recognizes how that individual training built in her the confidence that she needed to compete for, and earn, a starting spot in the Courage’s formation. Her career’s professional debut coincided with her team’s first game in the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup in Sandy, Utah on July 27. She vividly remembers how she was “beyond nervous” and how she, a center-back her whole career, was now taking up the right full-back position in the Courage’s 4-2-2-2 starting line-up.

“The biggest difference [in playing right full-back] is that there is more running and you have to be technically better in different areas,” she said. “Like crossing and taking players in one-versus-one situations on the endline.”

While she looks forward to running up and down the right flank again in the NWSL Fall Series beginning Friday, September 11, Merrick is now more concerned with playing a key role in the conversation about social issues affecting the country. As a Black professional athlete, she feels the obligation to contribute to the ongoing quest for change in the social justice system.

“As a Black player, it is part of my responsibility to set an example,” she said. “It is our job to be the voice of the people that maybe don't feel as comfortable speaking up.”

Merrick believes that female professional athletes should take advantage of the spotlight provided by the NWSL and sees the league as a powerful means to amplify the message.

“It would almost be dumb to not use our platform,” she said. “People are looking at us, kids are watching at us.”

Adversities seem to motivate Merrick rather than bringing her down. Just like she did at the Courage, she is deeply committed to turning another inconvenient situation into a favorable one.

Original article here!

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