Fledgling Fern: Lee a Rising Star in New Zealand
The 2014 FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup will be hosted by Canada and kicks off Tuesday with the start of group play. Four LSU Tigers are will be competing in the event for the best representation of the LSU Soccer program in the history of the World Cup event. LSUSports.net will publish a four-part feature series on the Tigers stepping onto the field for their countries at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. Part 1 features All-SEC and Freshman All-American left back Megan Lee, who will be competing for New Zealand during the event.
Oct. 30, 2013, is a day that Megan Lee won't soon forget.
New Zealand's Football Ferns had battled back to level the score at 1-1 against the world's No. 1-ranked United States through 90 minutes thanks to Hannah Wilkinson's 87th-minute equalizer late in the second half of the friendly match played at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.
With a crucial three minutes of stoppage time looming, Lee's number was called to replace the goal scorer and step into the back line to help preserve what would prove to be a historic result for the Ferns.
It was New Zealand's first result against the two-time World Cup champions and four-time Olympic gold medalists in 26 years since a 1-0 victory over the United States in their first meeting in 1987.
But the moment proved even more significant for Lee as an 18-year-old breaking into the National Team for the first time and earning her first international cap at the senior level.
An experienced member of New Zealand's youth system, Lee appeared 14 times for her country at the Under-17 level, even making two appearances at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in 2010 and 2012 in Trinidad & Tobago and Azerbaijan, respectively.
She next made the step up to the U-20 Junior Football Ferns as one of her nation's top young talents.
An appearance in New Zealand's 1-1 draw with the United States marked a different milestone for Lee in her development as one of Tony Readings' long-term prospects at left back for the senior squad.
“The feeling I had of getting my first senior cap was extraordinary,” Lee exclaimed. “Even more since the team I came on against was the best in the world. I was just in awe of the players and getting the chance to come on. I have a lot of respect for the USA because these are the best players in the world.”
Lee's excitement was certainly not limited to the pitch as she later met many of the American stars after the match, even swapping shirts with midfield great Megan Rapinoe.
“Swapping shirts (with Megan Rapinoe) was a memorable moment,” Lee recalled. “Hannah (Wilkinson) and I were actually the only ones on the team really keen to trade jerseys. After we had showered up we waited outside USA's changing room. She traded with Abby Wambach, and the next person to come out was Megan Rapinoe. I had to ask! She was really polite and funny to talk to.
“The thing I remember most was not actually playing, but being able to meet the players afterward. That was a great experience for me.”
From Auckland to Baton Rouge
Lee's pedigree as an experienced international is what first attracted the attention of college coaches for the 2013 recruiting cycle following her second appearance at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup.
She focused her efforts on identifying universities on the West Coast of the United States as her top choices with easier flights back home to Auckland.
But that would not stop the LSU staff from making its pitch to bring the New Zealand international more than 7,500 miles from her home to continue her development in Baton Rouge.
Head coach Brian Lee and his staff recognized the Young Fern's talent on the World Cup stage.
“Her athleticism, No. 1. Her versatility. She's equally effective up front, on the wing and coming out of the back. She's an equally capable central player when called upon,” Brian Lee said of what first drew his attention to the New Zealand left back. “She's proven with us to be the type of player who will make the first pass that ultimately leads to a goal. You can't measure how valuable that is to a team.”
When quizzed about what she knew of LSU at the start of her recruitment, Lee jokingly stated, “I did not know anything!”
Her education in the Tiger program was greatly influenced by fellow New Zealand U-17 teammate Emma Fletcher, who had already committed to sign a National Letter of Intent as part of LSU's Class of 2013.
An attacking midfielder by trade, Fletcher starred in the same New Zealand team as Lee at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup nearly two years ago in September 2012.
“Brian and the other coaches at LSU seemed like genuinely nice people,” Lee explained. “Emma Fletcher was already set on going to LSU as well, and she knew a lot about the school. We talked a lot about what LSU had to offer, and that really helped me make my decision to go to LSU.”
Lee joined Fletcher as part of LSU's recruiting Class of 2013 that arrived on campus last August with their Top 15 national ranking as one of the top class of rookies to join the NCAA Division I ranks.
And while it proved to be a slow start for the Kiwi import in her collegiate career, Lee established herself as one of the top young defenders in all of college soccer with her outstanding displays in the purple and gold. She even earned All-Southeastern Conference honors for her efforts.
Lee missed the first six games of 2013 after suffering a severe ankle injury in preseason training.
She did make 12 appearances for the Tigers in her freshman campaign, including 10 starts against league opponents while scoring one goal and dishing out three assists from her left back position.
Lee's first career goal proved to be the winning Golden Goal for LSU's 3-2 extra time win over Mississippi State early in conference play.
“There's a support system here at LSU that really helped me last year,” Lee explained. “I was nervous for the first few weeks having to get to know everyone and learn how things are done at LSU. It will be great to start a new season knowing what to expect at the start of training.
“I can't say enough about the coaches and training staff at LSU. They are honest with the team and have insights that are helping me become a more well-rounded player.”
Last year's class of Tiger cubs made SEC history as Lee and Fletcher joined Canadian international striker Summer Clarke in earning Second-Team All-SEC honors.
It marked the first time in Southeastern Conference history that three freshmen from the same program earned All-SEC honors in the same season.
Each also earned Freshman All-America honors as three of the top young talents in the NCAA.
“Playing in only 12 games for our team last year and still making All-SEC really speaks to Megan's class as a player,” Brian Lee said of his star defender. “She has all the qualities to become one of the top left backs not just at the collegiate level, but also internationally for her country.”
Lee returns in the fall along with another heralded recruiting class to form a young, but talented core for years to come as the Tigers eye their first SEC Championship.
LSU's recruiting Class of 2014 cracked the Top 10 nationally as the No. 7-ranked class on National Signing Day by TopDrawerSoccer.com.
“I can't wait to play with my LSU teammates again,” Lee proclaimed. “I enjoy playing with all of them, and we get along really well. I'm looking forward to how far we can push ourselves and where this year will take us. I think in the years to come, we'll create an attractive playing style that this team will always have and help us achieve great things while I'm here.
“Brian (Lee) is a great recruiter, and I trust him to bring in the players best suited for our team.”
Third Time's a Charm
Lee will step onto the World Cup stage for the third time in her young career when New Zealand's Junior Football Ferns kick off the group stage against Paraguay on Wednesday of next week at the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup. Canada will serve as the host country of the event.
She will surely draw upon her previous experience to lead her country into the international arena again as one of the senior members of the squad.
New Zealand will compete in Group D along with Costa Rica, France and Paraguay.
There are 16 nations competing at this year's FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup with top two teams in each of the four groups advancing to the knockout quarterfinals beginning Aug. 16.
“I already know what to expect,” Lee said of her previous international experience. “I know how to really handle myself, and can help my teammates do the same.
“I remember how nervous I was putting on that New Zealand jersey for the first time with the U-17s just a few years ago. It feels great to be in that New Zealand kit and I'm so much more comfortable now than I was back then. We just want to make our country proud at this World Cup.”