Cheverus High senior Emma Gallant admires the U.S. women’s national team. In fact, her family’s dog is named Tobin in honor of USWNT right wing Tobin Heath, Gallant’s favorite player.

You’re unlikely to see hair dyed lavender or a goal-scoring celebration involving an imaginary cup of tea being sipped on Maine high school soccer fields this fall.

That doesn’t mean the local girls who kick, dribble and defend were unaffected by the success of the U.S. women’s national team in the summer’s World Cup, and the team’s high-profile fight for treatment, including pay equal to that of the men’s national team.

“There are young female athletes who get to look up to them and see that they’re using their athletic ability not just to play sports,” said Emma Gallant, a senior forward at Cheverus High, “but to make a difference and be upstanding leaders in society, which I think is cool.”

Gallant, 17, lives in Windham, where the family dog is a Wheaton Terrier named Tobin in honor of USWNT right wing Tobin Heath, Gallant’s favorite player.

“She’s not really the big scorer, she’s kind of the playmaker,” Gallant said of Tobin Heath. “I’ve always looked up to her and I aspire to play like she does.”

As a female athlete representing a formerly all-male institution (Cheverus didn’t become co-ed until 2000), Gallant said she can relate to the plight of USWNT members advocating for equality. She notes that the U.S. women have enjoyed much more success on the world stage (four World Cup titles and three Olympic golds) than the U.S. men (zero of each), and points out recent state championships won by Cheverus girls in indoor and outdoor track, and hockey.

“Stereotypically the guys are expected to do better,” she said. “Being a small school that’s magnified even more. But we’re making a statement over here. We’re upholding that empowerment aspect, which is good. I’m glad to be a part of it.”

In March, 28 members of the USWNT filed suit against U.S. Soccer, alleging gender discrimination. Chants of “Equal Pay” arose at the World Cup in France and the team’s victory parade in New York.

Jillian Nichols, right, a senior midfielder at Gorham High, got to meet USWNT team member Tobin Heath. “You watch these women,” Nichols said, “and not that you necessarily play like them, but you want to work like them, have the thought processes like them.” Submitted by Jillian Nichols

Jillian Nichols, a senior midfielder at Gorham High, has two younger sisters who play soccer and the whole family has followed the USWNT for years. Last summer Nichols and her two sisters visited Oregon and met Carli Lloyd. The year before that, Nichols attended a National Women’s Soccer League match in Boston between the host Breakers and visiting Portland (Oregon) Thorns, and had pictures taken with Heath and fellow USWNT member Lindsey Horan, both of whom play for the Thorns.

“You watch these women,” Nichols said, “and not that you necessarily play like them, but you want to work like them, have the thought processes like them.”

Being able to overcome rough patches, to believe in each other, to celebrate and enjoy each member of a diverse roster … those are lessons Nichols said the USWNT taught her. At a recent team meeting, Nichols said the Rams learned what she called a mistake ritual, so that when an assignment gets blown or an inevitable physical error occurs, the team doesn’t dwell on it.

“We need to drop it, move on and keep playing,” Nichols said. “That (national) team does that very well.”

Anya Babb-Brott, a junior midfielder/forward for three-time defending Class A champion Camden Hills, and Marion Robbins, a sophomore defender for defending Class D champion North Yarmouth Academy, traveled to France in July to watch the semis and final of the World Cup in Lyon.

They saw the United States defeat England in the semifinals and the Netherlands in the final, as well as the bronze-medal match won by Sweden.

“I love everything they do on the field, but everything they do off the field is actually more important,” said Babb-Brott, 16, who began following the USWNT six years ago. “They advocate for everything they believe in, they’re fearless and they don’t worry about how they’re perceived.”

Babb-Brott and Robbins are not acquainted. Their trips were separate.

As an eighth-grader, Robbins, 15, was assigned a research paper on a topic of her choosing. She opted for the USWNT and dug into the history of the program. Initially attracted by sport, Robbins became intrigued by societal implications. She learned about leading scorer and captain Megan Rapinoe and her history of advocacy, which in 2016 included kneeling during the national anthem in sympathy with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose protest against police violence and racial injustice led to his apparent blacklisting by the league.

“It wasn’t specifically about their equal play and equal rights activism,” Robbins said, “but that’s kind of what it turned into.”

Knowing that history, Robbins gained a greater appreciation for the accomplishments of the current USWNT members. She returns to the field this fall a little older, a little wiser and a little more hopeful.

In 2016, a woman won the popular vote for the U.S. presidency. In 2018, a record number of women (102) were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. In the summer of 2019, the sporting world was abuzz with the exploits of women who play soccer with skill, strength and passion.

“I’ve never seen a group of female athletes come into the spotlight in such a huge way,” Robbins said. “It’s been an amazing few years.”

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.