Our latest blog post is here! We are excited to bring you another great interview featuring a former high school standout and current division one collegiate goalkeeper. Brenna Murray has worked her way up the depth chart at the University of North Carolina Charlotte and emerged as a top goalkeeper for the program. Read all about her journey and some of the great advice she has for young goalkeepers looking to play at the next level!
1. You were named the High School Soccer OT Women's Player of the Year in 2019. How did playing high school soccer contribute to your success as a youth goalkeeper?
Playing High School soccer was a great experience for me because it was a different environment from club, but it was still competitive and challenged me in different ways. The feeling of representing your school, competing in stadiums and, for me, competing in front of large crowds for a few of our playoff games helped prepare me for the pressure that you feel playing in college. Additionally I think the different playing styles, conditioning and schedule helped make me a more well-rounded goalkeeper. In the high school season I was able to play with different players, learning how to communicate with various people and become a leader at my school both on and off the field. Also, in the high school season you have the weekends off so I was able to plan extra goalkeeper sessions or fitness depending on what I thought I needed to improve at that time.
2. You graduated Summa Cum Laude from your high school. How did you manage to balance academics and soccer, and excel at both?
It's always been very important to me to be a well-rounded person, not just an athlete. It's important to remember that you are a student first and athlete second. You have to take care of business off the field in order to give yourself the freedom to pursue soccer. Time management is certainly the biggest key to success both in high school and college. Making a schedule, using planners, and setting reminders to make sure everything is taken care of is how I kept track of all my commitments. Sometimes everything going on can be overwhelming, but remember to be present in whatever you are doing so you don't have to play catch up later!
3. How did you choose UNC Charlotte? What was the recruiting process like?
My recruiting process looked a little different from others as I played for a different club team almost every single year of high school so consistent recruiting was difficult. I waited to commit until December of my senior year, and looking back, I am very glad I waited that long to see all my options and be able to make the best decision for me. I spent a lot of time emailing coaches, going to ID camps and showcases but what made the biggest impact on recruiting was utilizing my club coaches and other coaches in the area to use their connections to learn more about programs and truly gauge what college coaches were interested.
I chose UNC Charlotte because it checked so many of my boxes that I was looking for. I wanted a place that would value me as a person and an athlete, and the culture and team there did just that. I loved the campus, it was the perfect 2 hours from my hometown and Charlotte offered my major. I liked what the coaching staff had to offer and felt like I had a chance to develop as a player in their program. Really though, it came down to the feeling I had when I first stepped on campus (and I had visited a lot of places). I was always told "you will just know when you found the right place", and didn't really believe it until I got to Charlotte, but that's exactly how I felt.
4. Talk about your transition from high school to college. What were some of your biggest challenges?
Even after playing ECNL in high school, I still think the jump to college is challenging for anyone! My biggest challenges were the change in pace and overall level of players. In high school you play with others that are pretty much all the same age, but in college you can be 17 years old playing with 22 year olds, who are faster, stronger and more experienced. You can't control lack of experience your freshman year, so it's important to come in fit and trust in your technical skill as you learn more about your team's playing style and your role.
5. You took a redshirt in your sophomore season. Share a little bit about that decision and how that impacted your college career.
Initially when I first entered college, I was certain that I would not be taking a redshirt year and was convinced I would be in and out in 4 years. However the pandemic really changed the way things looked on my team. A 5th year goalkeeper I was playing under stayed an extra year and our goalkeeping unit also contained 5 competitive goalkeepers. Taking that redshirt year was not my first choice, but knowing where I was in the depth chart at that time I believe choosing to save my eligibility was a good decision and gave me the opportunity to develop skills I needed to work on in the meantime. Now I am grateful that I was open-minded enough to take that year to develop without wasting my eligibility as I consider using the rest of my eligibility in graduate school.
6. What has the competition level been like at the college level? Surprising or no?
Initially yes, I think the level was a bit surprising coming from high school. Especially since you are thrown into preseason immediately when arriving on campus, the adjustment can be difficult because you literally hit the ground running. My freshman year Charlotte had a very strong team as well, so I think getting used to the pace and expectations takes some getting used to. Additionally our conference typically has very strong and athletic girls, so I think the physicality is on a different level in college as well.
7. What were some of the most important aspects of your game you focused on to help you develop into the starting goalkeeper for the 49ers?
Persistence was the name of the game for me. As a goalkeeper you have different challenges from your field player friends, especially when it comes to playing time. Competing against other talented goalkeepers day in and day out can be difficult, especially when you know only one of you will likely have the chance to play. For me, I think it was really important to develop a mentality of controlling the controllables and playing whatever role I fell into the best I could. It's very easy to get sucked into a comparative mindset, especially when you are not the starting goalkeeper. The question I asked myself everyday was "what can I do to be a better version of myself today?". This helped keep me grounded, as both a back up and as I transitioned into the starting role. Goalkeeping is such a mental game and keeping yourself in a confident, but humble mindset is key to being successful. Once I got my chance to start, I knew I was in a good place and trusted myself to execute. After that, it's just about consistency!
8. What tips, if any, do you have for young goalkeepers wanting to play college soccer?
Do your research! I truly think there is a school out there for everyone if you are open to exploring all options. Figure out what is important to you in a school – location, size, major, playing time, team environment – and go from there. Then give yourself opportunities to be seen by college coaches, and don't be afraid to reach out. You never know if the right email will open up opportunities for you. Stay the course and continue to improve in the areas of strength/fitness, handling, and distribution, as I feel those make a big difference in the long run.
9. What is your most memorable save in your career so far?
I played my first full 90 minute game in almost a year, after redshirting, against South Carolina in the spring of 2021. I ended up making two big 1v1 saves to keep us in the game and won Woman of the Match. There is nothing better than beating the odds and stepping up in breakaway situations! I'll always remember that game as a moment proving to myself that my work was paying off and I didn't just have the potential to make big time saves, but I could execute too.
10. Favorite goalkeeper of all time?
Such a tough question. As I've gotten older, I really love watching Ashlyn Harris. I think she is a dynamic female goalkeeper and I loved how she plays aggressively off her line. On that same train of thought, on the men's side I have really enjoyed watching Manuel Neuer and his "Sweeper Keeper" style of play.