Former Owl soccer standout Lauren Hughes (2016, Will Rice College) began playing professionally in Iceland after graduation. Here's a recent Q & A with Hughes, the school's career leading goal-scorer now playing for Selfoss.
How many weeks have you been in Iceland, and how has your pro/post-Rice experience been going?
I have been in Iceland since May 4 so I have been here for a little under three months. Going from Rice to Iceland was a really hard transition for me; my pace of life dramatically slowed and I am without my community here. With time and prayer, it has gotten easier to be away from home. Luckily, I have a great community back at Rice who have kept loving on me, encouraging me and being there for me even though I am so far away.
How is the team doing?
We are currently in a bit of a slump, having lost our last few games. We are in 7th place.
How does the pro league function there? How many teams are there, and are they essentially all over the island/country?
We play in the Pepsi League which consists of 10 teams from Iceland although the majority of teams are located in Reykjavik with a few teams being a bit further away. The furthest team is about six hours North from us. The club I play for, Selfoss, is about 40 minutes East of Reykjavik.
Are there many international players like you in the league? How competitive is it overall?
The league has rules that allow only 3 North American players on the field per team so most teams have 3 North Americans and the rest are European. The majority of my teammates are Icelandic. The games here are very physical, at first I was in awe the referees weren't calling more fouls. It's really excited to see how passionately these girls play; they genuinely love the game of soccer and you can see that in the heart they play with.
What has been your biggest adjustment in this whole pro/overseas experience?
It is definitely much colder than I expected it to be; I saw the temperatures before I came but I didn't realize it was so windy here. The wind cuts right through you (if you don't believe me, ask Annie Walker how cold she was when she came to visit me!). It is starting to get darker now but during the summer the sun does not set which made sleeping a little more difficult. I never realized how much the sun setting helped me to know what time of day it was and how much of my day was queued by the sun setting; sometimes I find myself not checking the time until midnight and being shocked it's that late!
Selfoss is a small town and the business hours here are much shorter than in America. Only one grocery store in town is open 'late' (until 9pm) and a lot of places, such as my favorite coffee shop here, don't open until noon. I have missed the accessibility of America, how convenient it is to be able to run to CVS or Target or Whataburger late at night! Everything here is very expensive so I'm learning to buy just what I need, not what I want; translated, this means that I spend my money on food. They have some great food here, I even tried horse a few months ago, but I'm definitely missing a lot of American foods.
What did playing at Rice teach you, or how did playing for the Owls help prepare you for this level?
Throughout my time at Rice, I got way stronger physically (thanks Coach L!) which has really helped me with how physical this game is here. I play on the wing here so it's been very different than the positions I played at Rice, I get the ball at my feet facing the goal rather than having my back to goal. I've loved being put in so many 1v1 situations out on the wing. One of the things that my coaches at Rice worked on with me was deciding when to dribble and when to combine out of it. As a natural forward, I love to dribble and go at players and since I've always been pretty good at that I have had a tendency to do that too often. Coach Nicky and Coach Al really helped me, especially my junior year, to learn when to play in less touches and when to dribble at players. I think this is something I can always be improving upon but my coaches did a great job in helping me to improve that already.
One of the things I learned while playing at Rice was that I am so much more than a soccer player. If I score 3 goals a game or if I score no goals all season then that does not make me any more or less loved, valued and cared for. Soccer is great but there is more to life than soccer. I learned that at Rice and it has really helped me in this environment, especially when we're losing games. When playing soccer is your job it can be so easy to allow your identity and value to be tied to your performance but my value and identity comes from the Lord.
Rice Athletics could not let Hughes go with without an Icelandic edition of the soccer program's regular Q & A, "Just For Kicks!"
My favorite Iceland TV show: We don't have cable TV at our house but my roommates and I stream the Bachelorette each week. It's house bonding.
My favorite book: We had five days off in May so one of my teammates and I took a trip to Ireland. In the airport I found a book that someone had left behind. It was one of the best fiction books I have ever read. It's called Dark Matter by Blake Crouch and I HIGHLY recommend it to everyone.
My favorite Icelandic song: I have one. Listen to it here
My favorite snack here: Skyr! It's Icelandic yogurt, very similar to Greek yogurt and it's really yummy.
What I like most about life in Iceland is: how beautiful the country is.
I knew I was a professional when: I got flown to Spain from Houston for a week of preseason
I wear jersey number `1' with Selfoss because: #7 was already taken (as were 11, 13, 17 and every other number I wanted) :(
My favorite moment of my pro soccer career so far: Our first game of the season was at Westman Island, a really beautiful island just off the coast of Iceland. I scored my first goal there and when I turned around to celebrate with my teammates I looked up at the mountains and was reminded of Big Bend National Park, one of my favorite places in the world. It was a really special moment.
The best soccer advice I ever had was: "You're so much more than a soccer player."
On I Selfoss game days one of my rituals or routines is to: drink coffee
I describe myself as: clumsy
My Selfoss teammates think I am: calm
One thing I'd like to say, but you didn't is: Áfram Selfoss! (Go Selfoss!)