IU women’s soccer rising sophomore Gabi Rennie didn’t get the start for the New Zealand women’s soccer team Wednesday and didn’t appear on the pitch until she was subbed on in the 89th minute. The box score of New Zealand’s Olympic opener against Australia shows she played one minute.
In that minute, Rennie found a ball floating towards her. She got her head on it, directing the ball into the far corner and scoring her country’s first goal of the Olympics in a 2-1 loss.
It’s a far cry from playing at IU as a freshman to competing in Tokyo, and the distance pales in comparison to the jump in competition.
“There’s way less room for mistakes,” Rennie said. “It’s definitely the next level up, but it’s so cool to be a part of.”
The forward from Christchurch, New Zealand, appeared in all 12 of IU’s games last season, including five starts. Before preparing for her sophomore season, Rennie will be representing her home country.
Rennie started playing for New Zealand when she was 16. She appeared in the U17 World Cup, helping the team to a Bronze medal, and served as the captain of the U20 team for qualifiers before the World Cup was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
IU head coach Erwin van Bennekom believes this experience will help Rennie grow off the field as much as on. She’ll be playing alongside professional soccer players from the National Women’s Soccer League and the Women’s Super League.
“It’s a thin group you can select out of,” van Bennekom said. “But New Zealand has some players. They’ve got some pedigree and they’ve always done well at the Olympics.”
Rennie is the second IU women’s soccer player to compete in the Olympics, following Orianica Velasquez, who played for Columbia in the London 2012 Olympics.
Rennie said representing IU in the Olympics will not only give her more confidence in her game, but will also give her more responsibility to uphold in order to give IU higher standards to strive towards.
van Bennekom said the opportunity to represent her country and IU is a payoff for all the appreciation she’s shown as a Hoosier.
“She’s definitely one of my favorites,” van Bennekom said. “Just a great personality and really appreciative of everything IU and that program gives her. She’s one of the ones, you give her an IU t-shirt, and for a lot of people that becomes normal. She gets something like that and it makes her day.”
For the rest of the team, Rennie is an example of what IU’s players can achieve.
“Gabi is a good player for us, but she comes off the bench, she started some games,” van Bennekom said. “It’s not like she’s out there and everyone else is so far below. For everybody it’s, ‘Hey we’re all in the same category.’”
New Zealand is in the same group as Australia, Sweden and USA, and will have to finish either in the top two in the group or finish as one of the two best third-place teams to advance to the quarterfinals.
But if that happens, and Rennie misses the first IU practices in August, van Bennekom doesn’t mind.
“Hopefully she comes back as late as possible,” van Bennekom said. “That means she’s in the final. We don’t want her back after the group stages.”