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Carmel Valley soccer star overcomes injuries, headed to UC San Diego

Zoe Purcell. Courtesy photo
Zoe Purcell. Courtesy photo

By Rob LeDonne

Zoe Purcell was only 4 years old when she started playing soccer, but her passion for the sport runs in her family. Purcell, currently a senior at Torrey Pines High School, was born in Dublin, Ireland —  a country rife with soccer fanatics (or as they call the sport over there, football.)

“My whole family is from Ireland, and we follow the English Premier League,” she said from her Carmel Valley home. “We all actually visited England and Ireland over Christmas and went to a game. European sports have a different vibe for some reason. To go from watching it on TV to being there in person, it makes you want to be on the field. It was a greats feeling.”

Fortunately for Purcell, she’s had plenty of great feelings playing on the field as part of the Torrey Pines Varsity Soccer team, which recently wrapped up its season by making it all the way to the state semifinals. “As a kid, I started playing competitively as soon as I was allowed,” Purcell said, alluding to her skill-set. “I started out a right defender, and now I’m a forward and mid-fielder. The first day my coach wanted me to switch positions — I wound up scoring six goals in a tournament and I’ve stuck with it since.”

Along with Purcell’s hectic Torrey Pines schedule, she’s also active in the North County’s busy club soccer scene playing for Surf, which takes place during the high school’s off-season. However, amid all of Purcell’s success in soccer, her journey hasn’t been easy. “I’ve had some really bad years,” she remembers. “During my very first high school game in 2010, I tore my ACL and meniscus. Seven months later, I re-tore my meniscus again, and then again. All told, I couldn’t play for two and a half years; it was absolutely terrible. I couldn’t put it into words if I had to.”

During that time, Purcell was frustrated but kept her eye on the prize. “Never once did I think I was going to ever stop playing,” she explains. “I was always determined to get back on the field again.” As a result, even though she wasn’t actually playing, Purcell rarely missed a practice or game to root her fellow teammates on.

Tearing your ACL is typically a career-ending injury for any athlete, but not Purcell. She began playing once again in 2012 after four surgeries, and by then was both mentally and physically ready for the game. “Throughout it all, my parents were very supportive,” Purcell said. “They’ve always pushed me to keep playing and keep trying, and I did.”

Her Surf coach, Ada Greenwood, was equally supportive and made sure to ease Purcell back into the game. “What I don’t want to do is make her play 60, 70 minutes in a row,” Greenwood explained to U-T San Diego this past summer. “That might be too much for her — not that she’ll hurt her knee, but she might pull a muscle or something.”

Purcell, fresh off of being sidelined and armed with her newfound soccer strength and skills on the field, eventually overcame her injury in a big way. The powers that be at UC San Diego had been monitoring her recovery and skills, and liked what they saw. “They had seen me play and contacted me to offer a spot to come join their team,” she said. “I took it right away.”

UC San Diego’s season starts gearing up in July, but until then Purcell is enjoying attending high school and looking forward to what’s to come. “It’s weird, but I’m extremely excited,” she says. “I’ve played with the same people since I can remember.  UCSD will be a different environment, but I’m ready.”