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Dream Becomes Reality In Betsy's Footballing Life
by Jeremy Ruane
Sunday's clash with Australia marked a special milestone in the careers of a couple of Football Ferns stars who began their senior careers together at Three Kings United in 2005.

It was very apt that Betsy Hassett and Annalie Longo started alongside each other as they earned their fiftieth caps for their country in the Football Ferns' June 16 encounter against Australia.

They first came to prominence way back in late 2004, a pair of industrious midfield dynamos whose efforts were integral to Auckland's clinching of that year's U-14 National Tournament.

The following season, they began their senior careers together at Three Kings United, where they collected Northern Premier Women's League championship medals in 2006 and 2007.

Both have followed separate paths since those early successes, but have continued to achieve, in Betsy's case at Cal State Berkeley in the USA and at SC Sand in Germany.

"Just playing for the 'Golden Bears' was really fun for four years", reflects Berkeley's MVP for the 2012 season. "I made such good friendships. We got to the second round of the NCAA Division One play-offs last year.

"Off the field, my life there was amazing. You get looked after so well, and I really improved as a player there, I think".

Her head coach at Berkeley, Neil McGuire, certainly thought so, if his comments on the 'Golden Bears' website are anything to go by. "She is the essence of Cal Soccer, and we are very proud of her.

"She proved herself to be a world-class soccer player, having competed in the Olympics, and now shows her academic prowess with this great accolade", specifically being named in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America's Scholar All-America First Team.

Such recognition for a foreign student is rare, but shows how well Betsy applied herself to her academic courses - she studied social welfare at Berkeley while donning their colours 64 times in her spell there.

The NCAA play-offs marked the end of Betsy's time at Berkeley, but pastures new beckoned. "I finished college and wanted to play overseas, i.e. Europe, as I've got a Dutch passport.

"I talked to Marcus, a guy some of the other girls were talking to, and he helped me out with a team. SC Sand plays in the German Second Division, so I'm just looking to work my way up from there".

A sudden appetite for scoring goals will certainly help in that regard. Betsy can hardly be described as a prolific markswoman - she's more often involved in the setting-up of goals rather than their conversion - but in ten games for Sand, she scored eleven goals, including a hat-trick in her final match of the season.

"I've just started finding the back of the net", laughs Betsy. "I've never been a big goalscorer" - she has 41 in her career to date - "but now I think it's started, and once you get one, it just keeps on coming. It's easier as you go on, so now I have more confidence, I just expect to score in every game".

One thing which has helped Betsy in her new environment is having a fellow Football Fern as a team-mate at Sand. "Having Rebekah Stott join me there was awesome. It was a lot easier to have someone I know alongside me, that's for sure.

"We had a lot of time over there, so we got to know each other well. We trained together on the side, which was also really helpful". Their efforts helped SC Sand secure a third-placed finish, but whether
Betsy is back there for next season is in the lap of the gods at present.

"I have no idea what I'm doing at present. I don't even have any idea where I'm flying after Japan!" Cue more laughter!

"Seriously, away from football, I don't have any long-term goals, but I'm trying to find what else I'd like to do. Surfing, playing my guitar and painting are things I enjoy doing, but I need to find something else to do besides football".

Betsy's raison d'etre has brought her plenty of great memories to treasure already in her career, not the least of which are those from the four FIFA Finals tournaments in which she has played.

"Chile '08 was amazing. I remember the flares and the massive crowd when I was playing against Chile, which was our second game - we won 4-3. Two years later, the next U-20 Finals were in Germany. That was a lot of fun, as I had a lot of friends in that team. We didn't do as well as we expected, but we had a lot of fun on that trip".

Twelve months later, she was back there again. Germany 2011 was a tournament which left everyone who attended knowing they'd been part of something special. "It was amazing playing for New Zealand at my first Women's World Cup. That was cool - a great experience".

And the hits just keep on coming. "What can you say about London 2012? That was the best! It all happened so fast, the World Cup followed by the Olympics. It just keeps getting better and better, I think.

"Reaching those events again - Canada 2015 and Rio 2016 - is my prime ambition at present. I want to keep playing as long as I can, and keep getting better as a player. I love it".

The latest challenges on the road to those twin targets are, of course, Australia and Japan. And while the old enemy twice staved off a long overdue defeat in Canberra, all who saw either match know that it's only a matter of time before the good guys grace the winner's circle at long last.

"We've improved so much since Cyprus", says Betsy. "And we're looking to continue to do so while on this latest tour and beyond. Personally, I'm aiming to improve as a player, and as a midfielder, make the starting line-up, create goalscoring opportunities, and generally be a key part of the team.

"It's amazing that these games are being televised. It's always great to know that we've got lots of support from home. I wish the games were in NZ, of course, but it's awesome that they're going to be on TV and everyone can see them and see how much we're improving".

Having been away from home for so long, Betsy has enjoyed visiting old haunts while in town such as 'Titibabs', the local kebab store near her family's Titirangi home. And, of course, catching up with her Football Ferns team-mates.

"It's so good to see everyone's faces again. Everyone gets along so well. I think that's a really big part of our team culture. That's why we do so well - everyone's together, and there are no divisions in the team. It's nice and happy to be home and see everyone again".

And as for becoming the fifteenth member of the Football Ferns' fifty cap club, five years after earning her first in a 1-0 win over Argentina? "To win fifty caps is a dream.

"I always wanted to play for New Zealand, but didn't know I'd get to this stage in my career so quickly. It's awesome that, instead of being in the back of my mind, it's now part of my life".

And very much a footballing life at that.

A - J     2008