Aug 30, 2013
By Austin Miller, OleMissSports.com
OXFORD, Miss. -- While senior Rafaelle Souza is the team's lone Brazilian native, she is not the only Rebel to show a Brazilian flair on the soccer pitch. Enter freshman starting right back Gretchen Harknett, a native of Memphis, Tenn., by way of Escola Americana de Campinas in Campinas, Brazil.
She played soccer at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis for her first three years of high school and also served as team captain of her club soccer team, the Collierville Lady Lobos, alongside future Ole Miss teammates Melissa Capocaccia, Addie Forbus and Mackenze Parma.
Her senior year, Harknett's father got a job promotion, so she and her whole family moved to Brazil, where she also played soccer and attended an American school.
"I really enjoyed the experience," Harknett said. "It was a journey for sure, and there were a lot of obstacles, like learning a learning a new language and meeting new friends. It was senior year for me, so I had to leave my club team, my school and my hometown, and I was missing graduation and all the senior experiences.
"But overall, I enjoyed the experience. I got to join a Brazilian club team, and that helped me expand on my soccer skills, and I made a bunch of new friends."
On the field, she led the Sao Paulo High League in scoring that season and helped lead her team to the league championship. It was, however, a very different brand of soccer than she was used to playing.
"The way the Brazilians play is a lot different from the way Americans play," Harknett said. "They're very fast paced, and their foot skills are incredible. It's always go forward and go to goal. It was a cool experience because I got to play different positions. I got to play up top some, and I led the Sao Paulo high school league in goals. I got to play a whole different style of soccer."
That experience, Ole Miss head coach Matt Mott said, helped her technique. And some of the things Harknett can do with the ball reminds him of the senior, Souza.
"If you look at Rafa, she is one of the most technical players in the country," Mott said. "And you can see that in Gretchen. The little flicks and the little things she does with both feet clearly is an influence from the Brazilian style of play.
"Her ability with the ball, to beat players with the ball, and be tricky with the ball. That's the Brazilian influence. They like to beat players. Rafa will sometimes beat a player a couple of times before she gets past them. And Gretchen has a lot of the same qualities that she learned in her year in Brazil."
Her work rate and play-making ability, were what stood out to Mott when watching Harknett in high school and club competition.
A natural center midfielder, a position Mott said he expects she will eventually play, Harknett started her first two college games at right back, where her skill set also translates well.
"She's able to strike the ball really well with both her right and left foot," Mott said. "She's strong. She's good in the air. She tackles. Gretchen can also connect passes and score from distance. It's all of the things you want in a right back, but it's also things you want in a midfielder."
Harknett's father remains in Brazil, but he will be able to make some of her games this season, which will make those games extra special for her.
"It's definitely hard because I want to him to be at my games, and I would rather have him in America, of course," Harknett said. "But he needs to be there. He comes back every month to see the family, and will come to some games. We'll also take trips to Brazil. I'm looking forward to that."
Austin Miller is a writer and blogger for OleMissSports.com. He joined the staff in June 2013 after serving as sports editor of the Daily Mississippian. Follow him on Twitter @austinkmiller