UNC's Katie Bowen: 8,436 Miles From Home

  • Name: Katie Bowen
  • Age: 20
  • Organization: UNC Tar Heels Soccer

Author: Patrick Kinas, DNAOfSports.com creator.

Katie Bowen, right, wearing #14. (Photo courtesy: Katie Bowen.)

Forgive North Carolina Tar Heel junior midfielder Katie Bowen if her yellow highlighter is running low on ink.

She has a lot of dates colored in on her calendar.

Concurrent with another Tar Heels undefeated magical run through the ACC, should the Heels get past Duke on Sunday, the match of the year would be looming on Thursday, October 23rd against also-unbeaten Florida State, the New Zealander has her eyes on another set of fixtures.

These matches will dictate her next summer vacation.

9,030 miles from her dorm room in Chapel Hill.

Welcome to the football life of Katie Bowen, the only kind of life she’s known.

Life’s Beginnings

Dave Bowen, Katie’s father, was born in Manchester, England, growing up a monster Manchester United fan. Dave’s father, a member of the Royal Navy, led to their relocation to football crazed Portsmouth. But the move to Portsmouth, coupled with his passion for the sport would prove ironic. Years later, Dave would don the kits of Portsmouth FC for seven years.

Katie’s mother Pippa was born in New Zealand, with a career in journalism. She took a job in England, where she and Dave met. After getting married, they settled in for a life in Auckland, growing to a family of six.

Katie’s father runs an electric company now, but the family’s passion for football has not waned.

Katie’s Start

“I pretty much played every sport known to mankind – basketball, tennis, tap dancing, karate and even netball, where you had to wear skirts,” Bowen, 20, said. “But we’re a soccer orientated family, and soccer fans through and through. I started played in at age 9. Man U is my team, and I’m still a huge fan to this day. I’ve seen them a couple of times in England and in Australia.”

While the United States is a full-day’s flight away from the sand-soaked homeland of Bowen’s, American soil wasn’t foreign to her as a child.

“We used to visit my grandma in England every two years, and stop in L.A. or Florida at the touristy theme parks,” Bowen recalled. “By the age of 13, I knew wanted to come to America for college. The standard was better than club football in New Zealand, but I didn’t know it would become reality.”

The Reality

On the soccer circuit in New Zealand growing up, Bowen was a big deal. She played in the U-17 World Cup in 2008, which gave her immense exposure.

“It definitely boosted my soccer resume,” Bowen said.

But as the college decision loomed, despite Bowen’s credentials were overshadowed by 6,500 miles from Auckland to the west coast of the U.S.

Prior to Bowen’s white knight riding in, it was looking increasingly likely that Bowen would spend her time attacking for the two-time national champion Portland Pilots.

“Portland was in contact with me regularly, and as I got a bit older around 16 and 17, I sent emails to colleges, telling them who I was, what aspirations I had, etc.,” Bowen said.

Portland is an outstanding program on the west coast, reaching eight College Cups, and 21 NCAA Tournaments.

But on practically every American’s short-list of women’s soccer programs is UNC.

“I wasn’t committed to Portland, but I was thinking I would want to go there.”

Then approaching the 11th hour, Bowen’s life would change.

“I got a late offer from UNC, totally out of the blue,” Bowen said.

“Holy moly, this is the real deal,” she remembered.

In February, 2011, the Bowen family came to Chapel Hill and were blown away.

But there was one small caveat before Bowen accepted.

“The most embarrassing thing, I didn’t know about UNC soccer,” Bowen admitted. “They were halfway around the world.”

“They did know that I played internationally in ’08 NZ, was the 2010 captain, and gradually filled out resume, but they hadn’t even seen footage.”

But Tar Heels coach Anson Dorrance, owner of 22 national championships, doesn’t swing and miss often and he connected once again on the Football Fern.

“It was a big leap of faith, and an oddity to me.”

But after being named a freshman 2nd Team All-American, a member of the 2012 national championship team, a member of the New Zealand Olympic team in London that same year, and a Women’s World Cup roster in 2011, Bowen’s resume continues to be bolstered.

Football Ferns

The clashes will come fast and furious in the next few weeks for Bowen. It begins Thursday, October 23rd with Bowen’s Tar Heels matching at home against the Florida State Seminoles in a battle of conference heavyweights.

Just a few days later, armed with their highest-ever international ranking at #20, Bowen’s Football Ferns, the affectionate name for the women’s national team for New Zealand, will begin their quest to qualify for the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada.

The Oceania’s region qualifying will be held in Kokopo, Papua New Guinea between October 25th and the 29th, and will feature the defending region champion Ferns, along with the host Papua New Guinea, Tonga and the Cook Islands. The winner of that group heads to the World Cup next summer.

“Unfortunately, I can’t go back for them although I’d love to be with the national team but it’s just not feasible,” Bowen said. “The qualifiers in October are not as rigorous. Obviously, when you don’t go, they take another person (on the roster), but I trust my own ability that when I get to camp, even if I wasn’t on the previous tour, that I’ll get back into my ability and make the team.”

There are a couple of other Ferns playing collegiately in the U.S. with ties to the national team.

“I have a lot of communication with Hannah Wilkinson (Tennessee), who is one of my best friends, and Rosie White at UCLA.”

With all three playing in America, it’s much easier for them to stay in touch than it is for Bowen connecting with her family.

Auckland is 17 hours ahead of Chapel Hill time.

“They find it very difficult to follow my matches,” Bowen said. “Our night games are better for them, but when we play in the middle of the day on Sundays, it’s darn early for them. They wake up, and stay awake quite a bit during the night.”

New Zealand Life

While Chapel Hill has its allures, it’s a different set compared to Auckland.

“Growing up in Auckland, it’s a different way of life,” Bowen said. “It’s so far away from anything, like it’s own little country that not many people know about. People are very relaxed. The house I grew up in, there are about seven or eight beaches within 20 to 30 minutes. When I came over here, the nearest beach is 3 ½ hours away. That’s like us traveling to other side of New Zealand.”

While North Carolina has tugged at Bowen’s heartstrings in her three years in the Triangle, New Zealand will always be home for her.

Bowen’s majoring in communications, with a minor in education and special needs. She’s hoping to have the opportunity to teach special needs children with a desire to benefit their education through innovative learning strategies.

“I love New Zealand and want to return to raise a family,” Bowen admitted. “I absolutely love America. It’s fast-paced, but the people are different. It’s a real privilege to be here. The people here are very forward and direct. I’ve noticed that they’re so, so polite.”

Aside from her football skills, one other aspect that gains Bowen attention in the Triangle is her accent.

“The amount of weird looks I get every day for the way I speak and phrases I’m used to saying is absurd,” Bowen said.

“Everyone thinks Australian accents sound the same as English ones. One time I was at the airport heading home and asked for a cheeseburger. They lady behind the counter just couldn’t understand me. I said I wanted a patty and a bun, but she still couldn’t get it. I had to get the person behind me in the line to tell them the order.”

“If you’re a New Zealander or Australian, you can tell (the accent) immediately. I can see the confusion from outsider’s perspective.”

While Bowen stayed behind to complete the Tar Heel season, she’ll be monitoring halfway around the world to see if she’ll be packing her bags for Canada and the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

From there, Bowen and the Tar Heels will focus on one more prize.

The quest for North Carolina’s 23rd NCAA championship begins on November 15th, with a trophy to be raised December 7th.

Bowen has already assisted on one game-winning national championship goal in 2012. Dorrance brought over this Football Fern to assist on another.



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