Aside from her 5-foot-10-inch frame, senior soccer player Lauren Hughes’ most distinguishing feature on the soccer pitch is the number seven stamped across her jersey. Her number, typically reserved for an attacking soccer player, fits her play style perfectly. She nervously laughs as she explains that her number decision was not a soccer decision, but rather one Hughes made at a young age in an effort to replicate her older brother’s teammate and her first crush.
“I have two older brothers who both played hockey and I would always go to their games,” Hughes said. “There was a guy on my oldest brother’s team, and he was my first crush and biggest crush ever. It came time to pick our soccer numbers and I decided to wear number seven because [he] was number seven.”
As soon as she started playing soccer, her coaches saw potential for a future career in the sport. Hughes said she quickly fell in love with the game and soon after made her first competitive team at age eight.
“When I was 10 years old, I had a coach who pulled me and my mom aside and said ‘Lauren can go as far as she wants with soccer,’” Hughes said. “That’s when I was realized I could go play soccer or go play pro.”
An interconnected chain of opportunity and coincidence took Hughes from Ottawa to Houston for her college soccer career. Her road to Rice began when her club team, the Ottawa Fury, competed in Florida during her sophomore year of high school. There, John Adams, an assistant coach at Houston Baptist University, saw Hughes play and contacted her. The following year, Adams became an assistant coach at Rice and led the way for Hughes to join the Owls’ soccer team. Hughes decided to come to Rice without ever stepping foot on campus, a move Hughes said was “a huge leap of faith.”
According to Hughes, the decision to come to Rice was not very informed.
“At first I had never heard of Rice but my dad and I looked into it together,” Hughes said. “I didn’t even have an unofficial visit, which is unheard of.”
Hughes said the academic reputation of Rice was a primary concern as she worried about the workload and difficulty of the university.
“Academically, I was really nervous,” Hughes said. “Obviously, athletes have a different standard to get into Rice. I found the transition academically to be fine. I am challenged but I am not in over my head.”
Hughes quickly impressed players and coaches around the conference and began her stockpile of awards. She was named to the All-Conference USA second team and shared the team’s Rookie of the Year Award with teammate Holly Hargreaves during her freshman year. She followed up with an impressive sophomore year performance in which she was named to the All-Conference USA first team. In her junior year, she led the conference with 14 goals en route to another All-Conference season and a Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year award.
According to Hughes, the Offensive Player of Year award is especially important to her due to the process through which rival coaches vote to select it.
“Last year, winning Offensive Player of the Year was really cool because it is an award that the coaches in your conference vote on,” Hughes said. “It is cool to know that I am respected as a player in this conference.”
Hughes has already left her mark on the Rice record books and is the current all-time leader in goals scored with a current total of 36 and almost a full season left to go.
She said holding school records is a significant personal achievement, but she hopes future players will strive to one day pass her.
“It’s just great to be able to make an impact on the program,” Hughes said. “And I hope people come in and break my records.”
Nicky Adams, the head coach since 2011, has coached Hughes throughout her college career at Rice. Assistant Coach Allison Martino has also been a large influence on Hughes’ soccer game, especially her current transition to occasionally occupying the midfield role, where the Owls have not found a permanent starter after the departure of players such as Quinny Truong (Will Rice ’14). According to Hughes, she credits her coaches for her level of success at Rice.
“Ever since I got to Rice, Nicky and Allison have challenged me to be a big player and win awards and break records,” Hughes said. “Nicky is so passionate and it is awesome. I have never seen anyone love the game of soccer so much. Allison has also been helping me learn the role of
Hughes, a Will Rice College senior, said the residential college system has complemented her student athlete experience at Rice.
“I love Will Rice,” Hughes said. “I think the college system is so awesome because there are so many people I wouldn’t have been able meet. Some of my best friends are people I matriculated with at Will Rice and I never would have met them if it weren’t for the college system. I just would have been in the athlete bubble.”
Hughes also said the college system, particularly at her college, supports athletes with a fan base and a culture of inclusivity.
“Athletes for the most part do a good job of being around and Will Rice does a good job of supporting its athletes,” Hughes said. “There are always Will Ricers at our games and I love going to Will Rice for meals. This is my first year not living at Will Rice but Will Rice has made me want to come back and hang out.”
As she looks to graduate with a double major in sport management and sociology and a minor in poverty, justice and human capabilities, Hughes said she is looking to play professional soccer after graduation before pursuing a career in her academic field.
“I think I’m going to try to keep playing soccer,” Hughes said. “I am going to be only 21 when I graduate and I don’t want to get settled down and rooted into a career and regret not trying to pursue soccer.”
However, Hughes said she is still not certain in her long-term plans after a summer playing for a Christian soccer team in North Carolina, during which she began to strongly consider a life in sports or youth ministry.
“This year, I have definitely been questioning whether that is what I want to do,” Hughes said. “I am thinking that after soccer, I may want to get into ministry. I never would have thought I would have wanted to go into that before this summer, but it was super rewarding and something I could totally see myself doing.”
For now, she is working toward her plans of playing in a European women’s soccer league, as playing soccer in the U.S. would require her to leave Rice before graduating. According to Hughes, she would play in a semi-pro league until the European league’s signing period in August.
“I want to play in Europe and don’t have much of a desire to play women’s pro soccer in the U.S.,” Hughes said. “I’ve always wanted to travel so why not use soccer? I think that’s the plan, but who knows?”
Hughes and the rest of the Rice soccer team will look to continue their five-game unbeaten streak beginning Sept. 11 against the University of Dayton.