HAMDEN, Conn. - Former Quinnipiac women’s soccer players, Amanda Bilas ‘11 (Marshfield, Mass.) and Meagan McLoughlin ‘11 (Rocky Hill, Conn.), and senior Furtuna Velaj (Stamford, Conn.), have each used soccer to gain international experience throughout the past year.
Amanda Bilas, one of the Bobcats’ top defenders during her senior season in 2010, is currently working with Grassroot Soccer, a non-profit NGO that “uses the power of soccer to educate, inspire and mobilize communities to stop the spread of HIV.” Bilas is living in Zambia, Africa, where the HIV epidemic continues to negatively affect the community and its people. Bilas arrived in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, in August of 2010 and is working with GRS for a year.
“I’m working a full year with no pay, across the ocean in a different hemisphere, and loving every second of it” said Bilas. “This place is amazing and it’s a great feeling to be able to say you’ve helped save millions of youth’s lives when you were just 22 years old.”
While in Zambia, Bilas acts as a program advisor who works directly with the Zambian Prevention Initiative to coordinate various programs and projects, tournaments and training. Currently, she and GRS are working on new curriculum which helps boys and girls adapt basic life skills, healthy behaviors and a risk-free lifestyle.
“In recent years, I have stressed the importance to my players of using soccer to give back to the community,” said Quinnipiac Women’s Soccer Head Coach Dave Clarke. “Amanda has taken that to another level by spending a year in Africa coaching soccer. I have the utmost respect for her decision to forgo the comforts of home and family to dedicate a year of her life to the game in a foreign country. She is a great role model and a fantastic representative of Quinnipiac Women's Soccer.”
Former QU standout, Meagan McLoughlin, is also living abroad, but in Schoten, Belgium. McLoughlin, another 2011 graduate, is currently playing with a club team called Beveren, also known as the “Sinaai girls.”
“This is an experience of a lifetime,” said McLoughlin. “I'm doing what I love and getting the chance to live abroad and travel. I couldn't ask for more!”
The Connecticut native played in her first game with Beveren in late January, where she helped lead the team to a 2-0 victory. After this season, which ends in May of 2012, McLoughlin plans on playing with the team for another year.
“Most players do not get the opportunity to extend their careers beyond college, so for Meag to get the opportunity to play full time in Belgium is one she could not turn down,” said Clarke. “If she continues to develop as a player then it might even lead to her coming back and playing full time in the US. If not, she is still going to have a tremendous experience playing and living in a foreign country. I hope Meag serves as a motivation for some of our current players to continue to work hard and have the drive to fulfill their potential.”
Furtuna Velaj is currently finishing her senior year at Quinnipiac and is working towards her bachelor’s degree in political science. Velaj, originally from Kosovo, gained international experience as she was given the opportunity to play with the Albanian Women’s National Team after the close of the Bobcats’ 2011 season. After the Albanian head coach saw Velaj play while she studied abroad in England last year, he invited her to attend training camp during November of 2011.
“I enjoyed every moment,” said Velaj. “I loved the whole experience. Lining up, hearing the national anthem, it reminded me how passionate people are about soccer.”
Velaj traveled to Albania and trained with the team for a week before she played in her first international friendly against Macedonia on Nov. 10, 2011. Velaj helped lead the Albanian squad, which was made up of girls from several countries, to a 4-1 victory as she scored the team’s second goal of the outing.
“The program has a lot of potential,” said Velaj. “It’s a young program, but the players are dedicated and support is growing.” Velaj looks forward to continuing to play for Albania in the future, but still has dreams of suiting up for the United States.
“Furtuna has always wanted to play for the US Women's National Team, but the opportunity to represent her native Albania is one she could not turn down,” said Clarke. “To be selected to play for one's country is the ultimate honor for any soccer player and one which only a select few players get to enjoy. She has represented Quinnipiac with distinction in her four years here and now she will take that experience to Albania and try to help them qualify for a World Cup or Olympic Games.”
To learn more about Grassroot Soccer, please visit www.grassrootsoccer.org. You can learn more about Amanda’s experience working with GRS through her blog at http://akbilas.blogspot.com/ and donate to her internship by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact: Lindsay Oliveri, email@example.com