TEMPE – On her 18th birthday, Arizona State women’s soccer forward Gabi Rennie watched closely as the United States won the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The quality of competition in the title game brought excitement from the country where she would soon embark on her collegiate career. Little did Rennie know at the time, she would be part of New Zealand’s national team at the next women’s World Cup match.
Less than 700 miles away from her hometown of Christchurch, New Zealand, Rennie’s dreams came true on the world’s biggest stage in Auckland as she ran onto the pitch Thursday in front of over 40,000 fans in the 94th minute. The Football Ferns won their first senior World Cup match, defeating Norway 1-0 in the opening match of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“Having that home crowd is something I never really thought I’d experience before,” Rennie said ahead of World Cup. “Wearing the Fern on my chest and playing in front of my country … it is a very, very unreal feeling. It’s kind of what the little you dreams of when you’re envisioning your future.”
After finishing her last final exam in May, Rennie departed Tempe for New Zealand to begin a nine-week camp in Auckland. She joined Amy LePeilbet, who played for Team USA in 2011, as only the second Sun Devil women’s soccer player to play in a World Cup match on the tournament’s first day.
Though Rennie, 22, just made her senior Women’s World Cup debut, her experience on the international scene is vast with 30 games of experience for New Zealand’s national teams.
She played for New Zealand in the 2018 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup and aided the team to a third-place finish, the country’s first top-three finish in a World Cup. She was a captain for the country’s U-20 Team before being one of 18 players invited to participate on the senior team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
In April 2020, she committed to play for the Indiana women’s soccer program and played in 20 matches before entering the transfer portal after her sophomore season. ASU women’s soccer coach Graham Winkworth had recruited her in 2020, and Rennie finally committed to the Sun Devil program in 2022. She has since settled in well in Tempe, becoming a popular figure among her coaches and teammates.
Not only did her hometown fans cheer for her at Eden Park Stadium Thursday, but she also had a cheering section in Arizona watching her play at midnight.
“It is an incredible achievement to play for your country, but to represent them in a World Cup that is hosted in your home must feel like nothing else on Earth,” Winkworth said in a press release last month. “I am so proud of Gabi. I will be cheering her on like crazy and so will all of Arizona State.”
Though dreams have come true and history has been made, Rennie sets her sights on even bigger goals.
“Going all the way is definitely a success,” she said. “But for us, it’s definitely getting a win and getting out of our group. (Those were) our goals that were set for this World Cup, and that would deem successful if we achieve those goals. But goals change as the World Cup develops and as things go on.”
Rennie and New Zealand will continue its historic World Cup run against the Philippines in the second group stage match Monday at 10:30 p.m.