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Wednesday, December 06, 2023 — Houston, TX

Albuquerque talks childhood

Senior midfielder Catarina Albuquerque celebrates after a goal. Albuquerque discusses her unique story from growing up in London to playing soccer as a Rice Owl Kathleen Ortiz / Thresher

By Kathleen Ortiz     10/24/23 11:47pm

Catarina Albuquerque was shaking as she walked up to take a penalty kick in the 2021 Conference USA tournament. It was the spring semester of her freshman year, and she had been entrusted with the kick that could secure the Owls a spot in the C-USA tournament final. 

Albuquerque was more than 4,500 miles away from her home, but she could see her twin sister Isabel Albuquerque waving a flag of their parents’ native Portugal. Coming from London, the Portuguese twins have no relatives in Houston except each other. 

Isabel, an architecture major at the University of Houston, continued to hold the flag high as Catarina scored the goal. The crowd erupted into cheers and the soccer team rushed to celebrate their victory with Catarina.

“I knew if I missed it, [the shootout] would continue, so I was like ‘I have to score,’” Catarina said. “My favorite photo is from that moment when I scored. I turned around [to my teammates] and jumped and that’s just pure emotion.”

Now, it’s three years later and Catarina has played in 74 games and logged a total of 5,844 minutes for the Rice women’s soccer team. She plays the six, a defensive midfield position, and holds the title of captain. Catarina credits her family for being supportive since she was a little girl, but her parents hadn’t seen her play in-person for Rice until this week.

“I think especially my dad [is supportive],” Catarina said. “He drove me from school to practice like every other day. … I think that’s the biggest thing that [my parents] gave me: the opportunity to actually train and play at the high level that I did.”

Catarina began playing soccer in London at the age of four on an all-boys team coached by her best friend’s dad. She grew to love the game, even sleeping with a soccer ball each night. 

“I actually remember the day I got scouted for my first girls team,” Catarina said. “I think I scored a really insane goal or something and then the game ended and I went to my dad and he was like ‘Oh my God, this scout just came up to me and asked for your name and stuff.’ I was so excited.”

Catarina’s dad, Victor Albuquerque, became her chauffeur and biggest supporter as she continued to improve as a soccer player. According to Catarina, her dad likes to say he would have gone pro if not for a severe knee injury. However, Catarina just knows him as the man who would do anything to help her reach her own soccer goals.

When Catarina was 11 years old, she earned a spot on an Arsenal Ladies, now known as Arsenal Academy, team after her second year of trying out for the elite club. Her parents had a teacher call her out of class and bring her to a phone, so that they could personally congratulate her.

“I always wanted to make it pro,” Catarina said. “I think when I got into Arsenal, that was the turning point of like, ‘Wow, like I can actually do this.’”

From there, soccer became more serious for her. Victor would drive at least two hours to get his daughter to practice, and then three to four hours to get her to games. Since he worked from home he would take work calls on the way to and from practices each week. Catarina would sit in the backseat and do her homework.

“I like to say I’m grateful that I was pretty good in school,” Catarina said. “I didn’t really have to go extra and try super super hard. It kind of just came to me. But I definitely remember studying in the car, and doing my homework in the car and everything.”

Catarina said that Isabel is the one who saved her during high school. Catarina continued to play for Arsenal Academy and her age group of the Portugal National team while she was in high school. She would leave school to go straight to soccer and only get home around 9 p.m., without the time to do a lot, if any homework.

“It was hard for me as well sometimes in school,” Isabel said. “She was really busy, so I’d be the one staying home, doing the homework and then, like, helping out on it.”

Nonetheless, the sisters continued to help each other out and stick together. When Catarina decided that the best way to continue her soccer career and work toward her goal of playing for the Portugal National team was to come to the United States, Isabel began to look at schools in the U.S. as well.

“We quite like putting ourselves out of our comfort zone and traveling to new places, learning about new cultures,” Isabel said. “I think she always dreamt of it, and then at the same time we found a program that was really suited for me.”

Together, Catarina and Isabel moved to Houston from London. The 2020 fall semester was the first time they were going to different schools. Catarina is a sports management and sports medicine major whose career goals include working in the front office of a professional soccer team. Despite their busy schedules and the fact that neither has a car here, they try to meet up at least once a month. 

“It was nice to know that we could come to the same city, or we’d still be together, but we could also grow independently,” Isabel said. “That’s just something I feel like a lot of twins probably struggle with: When is the right time to start your own path?” 

They visit their family at home for the Christmas and summer holidays, but in Houston they only have each other. On Saturday Oct. 21, though, the girls’ parents and two younger siblings flew in to watch Catarina play. They will also be in town Thursday, Oct. 26 for senior night.

“It’s nice that they can all come down, because I feel like by doing that, not only are we proud to be like, ‘Aw, our parents can support us in that way,’ but they are also proud of her being able to achieve this milestone,” Isabel said. “Obviously college is not easy and the fact that she does college and soccer at the same time, that obviously is a really big achievement in itself.”

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