Hello all, and welcome back to Husky History, a new column focusing on one accomplished UConn athlete per week. Each article should detail the athlete’s accolades at Connecticut, as well as their ability to take their games to the professional level.
This week’s Husky History focuses on women’s soccer legend Rachel Hill. Hill has taken her talents through Storrs to the National Women’s Soccer League, where she has seen continued success both individually and with her squad. Her story is far from finished though, as she continues to be an inspiration for the next generation of athletes.
Raised by Mike and Cindy Hill in the small New Hampshire town of Rollinsford, Hill saw plenty of competition early on in her life, namely with her brothers Zach and Jake. Being the middle child, she was always looking to one-up her siblings, whether it was on or off the soccer pitch.
“I wanted to do everything that my big brother did, and wanted to do it better than he did,” Hill explained. “On the flip side, I never wanted my little brother to beat me out. [There was] definitely constant competition in everything.”
Those friendly rivalries at home gave Hill some extra fire, and it showed on the field, as she started working with the U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program in New Hampshire at an early age. By the time Hill reached high school, she was already one of the top players in the state and wasted no time proving it. When her time was up at Somersworth, the forward held the record for the most goals scored in a career for any New Hampshire high schooler with an astounding 151.
Besides dominating the pitch, Hill took pride in other sports as well, notably playing basketball in the winter and running track for the Hilltoppers in the spring. She explained that it was a great change of pace for her to have such versatility at Somersworth.
“Overall, it gave me excitement and I never got burnt out because it was always onto the next season, I always had something to look forward to,” Hill said. “When basketball season came around, I was still playing soccer, but it was like a fresh start in a different sport.”
As her high school career winded down, Hill decided to take her talents to the University of Connecticut, attempting to leave her mark on an already historic program. It’s safe to say that she did so quite successfully.
Coming to the team to start the 2013 season, she easily broke into the lineup, finding herself in the Starting XI in each of the team’s 20 games. The forward led the Huskies in goals and assists and had four game-winning goals, making her a huge impact player. She was named First Team All-Conference and All-New England for her efforts.
In 2014, Hill picked up right where she left off, taking home American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year, adding five game-winning goals to her résumé. The team saw success as well, winning the conference tournament and a game in the NCAA Tournament.
In her junior year, the New Hampshire native took her talents to another level, earning herself not only conference Offensive Player of the Year, but All-American honors. Hill was also a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, awarded to the top player in NCAA women’s soccer. UConn fell short in the conference championship but made the NCAA Tournament at an at-large bid and won two games. Hill scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Notre Dame to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, the first time the program was there since 2007.
Her senior season was just as impressive, as Hill netted another All-American honor and was named a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy for the second straight year. The Huskies won their second conference title in three years thanks to Hill’s game winning goal, and they won yet another game in the NCAA Tournament before falling to Auburn. By the end of her tenure in Storrs, the legend was second in the program all-time in goals scored and fourth in points with 61 and 140, respectively.
“[Playing such a key role in the program] means a lot,” Hill stated. “Obviously they have a lot of history there in the soccer program, with the success they’ve had making it to Final Fours and competing in NCAA Tournaments pretty consistently. It means a lot to be able to continue that legacy that UConn has and the success they’ve always had there.”
After a legendary run at the University of Connecticut, it was time for Hill to join the professional ranks. She was selected 14th overall by the Portland Thorns in the 2017 NWSL College Draft in January before getting traded to the Orlando Pride. Wanting to finish out her college degree was vital for Hill, so she signed her contract after graduation in May of that year.
“When I got drafted, I was super excited, but I made sure as soon as it happened that they knew that my priority was to finish school,” Hill explained. “I knew if I didn’t finish school right then and there when I was in the thick of it I probably never would have gone back and done that. I was very grateful that they understood that it was important to me.”
Since then, Hill has been quite busy in the NWSL, playing with the Pride for three years before being traded to the Chicago Red Stars in 2020. She also played loan seasons in both Australia and Sweden, but has spent the majority of her playing time in the U.S. She has accumulated 15 NWSL goals in 67 starts, and recently played in her 100th career game in the league. When asked if it felt like 100 total games in the league, the 27-year-old said this was the first year that she felt older, although she’s got plenty left in the tank.
“I think that this year was the first year that I felt like an older player, just because we did have a lot of rookies here this year,” remarked Hill. “It doesn’t feel like that long, but then again, this year I did start to feel like an older [player].”
When asked about inspirations, Hill stated she didn’t really look up to a lot of soccer stars. At that point, the NWSL wasn’t founded yet, and leagues like the Women’s United Soccer Association and Women’s Professional Soccer were rising and falling rather quickly. They didn’t have the stability that the NWSL now has, so aside from the World Cup and Olympic Games every few years, Hill didn’t have people to look up to. Now, the league has a growing fanbase, and players like Hill have that power to be true role models for young girls and boys across the country.
“It is really special knowing that a lot of us that are playing now didn’t have that growing up, so now to be in that position knowing that these little girls and boys are coming to our games every week… when you go over and sign an autograph for them and their face just lights up, it’s a really special feeling,” explained Hill. “We’re building the game up and leaving it better for the next generation.”
Hill is now transitioning into the offseason after a 2-1 playoff loss to the San Diego Wave on Sunday. The Husky legend started at right midfield for the Red Stars in the defeat.
Currently, Hill lives in Chicago with one of her teammates. She says that adapting to the city was tough at first after living in New Hampshire and Storrs for most of her life, but has found her place. Hill still keeps in touch with her teammates at UConn, saying that she made “lifelong friends.”