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HIGH ACHIEVERS: Clarissa Larisey signs pro soccer contract with Valur in Iceland

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By Martin Cleary

Decisions. Decisions. Decisions. We make them every day. In the second half of April, striker Clarissa Larisey had to make a major decision involving her evolving soccer career.

A graduate of the Ottawa South United soccer program, Larisey thought she had come to the end of her four-year soccer assignment with Memphis University. At the same time, she was considering her first professional role.

Clarissa Larisey with the Memphis Tigers. File photo

Memphis had posted an 8-2 record in its pandemic-delayed American Athletic Conference season. When the Tigers lost the final 1-0 to Cincinnati, it seemed logical they wouldn’t be invited to the NCAA championship tournament.

That was Larisey’s reasoning. So, she decided to sign her first pro contract with Valur in the Iceland Pepsi Max women’s league, especially since the 10-team regular season opened Wednesday. Time was of the essence.

But four days after Memphis lost the AAC final, the Tigers were one of 19 universities to earn an at-large berth in the 48-team NCAA championship. That meant Larisey, a key striker on the team, would miss her 3rd NCAA championship tournament.

“We were surprised that we got into the NCAA tournament,” Larisey wrote in an email interview from Reykjavik, Iceland. “We did not expect to get in at all. So, I already planned on going to start my pro career.

“Since I signed my pro contract, I couldn’t go back to play for Memphis. I wish I could have been there with the girls.”

Memphis experienced a short stay in the national championship, losing its opener 1-0 to Utah Valley.

Meanwhile, Larisey was settling into her new soccer career and surroundings halfway between North America and Europe. In its first game of the 2021 season, Valur defeated Stjarnan 2-1, but Larisey wasn’t in the lineup.

A highly accomplished goal scorer, Larisey signed a six-month contract with the league’s current champion from 2019. There was no champion determined in 2020. Competition stopped Oct. 30 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Larisey is the only Canadian on the Valur roster along with one American. The remainder of the players are from Iceland, which is 17th on the FIFA women’s ranking table. Canada currently is eighth.

Valur will cover Larisey’s accommodations for the entire season, which could stretch into October. The top team in Iceland’s main women’s soccer league pursued Larisey because of her stellar career at Memphis.

During her four-year commitment to the Tigers, she scored 34 goals, including nine game-winners, added 10 assists, and put 112 of her 205 shots on goal. She helped Memphis win the 2018 AAC conference tournament championship.

From a Tigers’ history perspective, Larisey is first in multiple-goal games (7), third in career shots (205), and fourth in goals (34). She was the AAC co-offensive Player of the Year in 2019 and a multi-time all-star.

A 16-goal scorer in 2019, Larisey was named to the MAC Hermann Award Watch List, which is the group of players who are considered for the NCAA women’s soccer Player of the Year. At the 2018 AAC tournament, she was the MVP.

The health studies student also earned many academic honours: AAC All-Academic Team (3 times), Academic Honour Roll (6), Dean’s List (3), and United Soccer Coaches first-team, All America scholar in 2019.

In its mid-season women’s Division 1 top-100 rankings, Top Drawer Soccer placed Larisey 44th, one of only two Canadians. She also was eligible for last January’s National Women’s Soccer League draft, but wasn’t selected.

“I was truly honoured,” Larisey added about being placed in that elite draft grouping. “It is so nice to know that people see me and see my potential.

OSU Force product Clarissa Larisey. File photo

“Not being drafted was definitely hard. I also knew my chances were low because I am Canadian and there are not very many international spots on each team. But I take that draft night with me and it drives me to be better.”

As a player, Larisey’s strengths are her speed and “ability to get behind the backline.” During her time at Memphis, she feels her technical game and game sense has significantly improved.

“My four years at Memphis were amazing,” wrote Larisey, who led the Ontario Youth Soccer League in scoring in each of the four years before that with OSU. “I got to meet so many new people and grew so much as a person. I learned a lot as a soccer player and met such great people, who will remain my friends for a lifetime.

“There were many ups and downs, but in the end, I wouldn’t change it. I was so blessed to get the opportunity to play at Memphis.”

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