From Canada to Athens: Isabella Muzzolini’s journey to Georgia | Georgia Sports

From Canada to Athens: Isabella Muzzolini’s journey to Georgia | Georgia Sports

Isabella Muzzolini is used to the cold. She’s from Vancouver, British Columbia, the western-most province in Canada. Basketball, volleyball, track and field and soccer took up most of her time growing up, but soccer meant more to her than those other sports. By the time she was 10 years old, she was already competing at the highest level of youth soccer in her area. She then started moving up the ranks of Canadian youth soccer before attracting attention from scouts representing the Vancouver Whitecaps, which eventually led her to Athens in 2021.

From the academy to Georgia

During her time with the Whitecaps, Muzzolini’s team often played against older girl teams, boy teams and local college teams, which undoubtedly helped to prepare Muzzolini for her transition to college soccer. The Whitecaps academy also requires its players to partake in its academic program, meaning all the players that trained together also went to school together. That provided Muzzolini with a college-like experience, and helped prepare her for life as a student-athlete, despite never being to Georgia before her NCAA-sanctioned visit to the school.

“We lifted together in the mornings, we did fitness testing, we had to do … daily wellness, and all that kind of stuff,” Muzzolini said. “I feel like the transition coming to college, other than the fact that it’s far away from home and I’m not living at home anymore, was quite easy just because of the way the Whitecaps program prepared me for it.”

Muzzolini first popped up on Georgia soccer’s radar when Katie Ely, the team’s goalkeeping and assistant coach since 2015, traveled to California, where Ely watched the Whitecaps’ academy teams and Muzzolini herself. While on the West Coast, Ely met Ryan Clark, the manager of collegiate transition and identification events for the Whitecaps.

In his role, Clark is the bridge between players who want to pursue collegiate soccer and the college programs themselves. He works with players on both the boys and girls sides of the Whitecaps academy, though the collegiate path is more common in the women’s game. The process of moving high school age players onto the next stage begins in the 10th grade, so the players can focus on their technical and tactical development, Clark said.

“A big part of my role is making sure that they land in great places,” Clark said. “A big key of this … is making sure that we’re finding the right programs for these players to develop so that they can continue to ideally represent the country, and go on and play professionally, when they’re done with their NCAA careers.”

In Muzzolini’s case, there were numerous factors that played into Clark’s evaluation of where she could start her collegiate soccer career. Among those were the potential team’s playing style, playing time and how the team has progressed and developed over the years.

Clark believed that Georgia was an optimal school for Muzzolini to attend because of the team’s recent progress under head coach Billy Lesesne. Georgia just had a historic season, but the team’s SEC season ended on Oct. 31 after falling to LSU in a penalty shootout in the first round of the SEC Tournament. Georgia soccer will find out if it qualified for the NCAA Tournament on Nov. 8.

Prospective players are allowed five official visits to colleges, but Clark recommends that Whitecaps players take only two visits to check out potential schools. In the end, Muzzolini felt that what Georgia offered her, both as an athlete and a student, was too good to pass up.

“When I came on my visit, I just instantly was blown away by all the facilities and all the stuff that they offer, really, academically and athletically,” Muzzolini said. “I think that was a big thing for me. I wanted to continue my journey as a student academically, but I also really thought athletics was important and all their facilities and all the resources you get here.”

Professional aspirations

Muzzolini desires to play at the professional level after college. She also hopes to play for the Canadian women’s national soccer team. Muzzolini was identified as a national team player for her age group from her time in the Whitecaps youth academy, and she’s already represented Canada at the youth level in various competitions and age groups.

She was poised to participate in Canada’s U-17 World Cup Qualifying campaign, but that was postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

On the field, Muzzolini has played for Georgia in the center of the field. In Lesesne’s 3-5-2 system, she mostly operates in the triangle of center midfielders that has primarily featured Muzzolini, Abby Boyan and Bella Ponzi. Her role requires her to filter the ball through the midfield and help the team transition into attack. The 3-5-2 isn’t a common formation in soccer, but prior experience at the club level helped Muzzolini transition into the team with ease.

Muzzolini started 13 games in 18 appearances for Georgia during this past season, her freshman year.

“As an attacking midfielder, I have so many people to play to, either the strikers up top, or the wing backs or other midfielders … to go to the attack,” Muzzolini said. “I feel like it’s a really attacking formation which I like. I’m the type of player who, the more touches I get on the ball, I feel like the better I do within a game.”

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