From UCLA to the Olympics: Teagan Micah's quest to turn college success into gold

Teagan Micah just wanted things to move along.

The 23-year-old was standing arm-in-arm with her Australian women's national teammates, about to make her senior debut in a friendly against Sweden.

"There was some nerves, but I was definitely more excited to kind of just get it over with," Micah told ESPN's The Far Post podcast.

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"Especially as a goalkeeper and Sam [Kerr] had said it, I think I was the 30th goalkeeper to be capped and it's so much harder as a goalkeeper.

"You can be in the squad for years and still not have played whereas field players can come in and kind of just get it over with straight away. So for me, I kind of always felt that monkey on your shoulder, it's there, but it's not there."

So, as she stood in the sun in Kalmar, Micah wanted to get started already.

"Then in the national anthem I was just thinking, 'Oh my goodness, this is taking forever,' having to wait for all the proceedings and stuff," she recalled. "And then as soon as I got my first touch, I was like, 'Okay, it's just another game' then after that I didn't really care too much, it was just play."

Although there are 15,289 kilometres between Kalmar and Redcliffe in Queensland where Micah grew up, she had a connection to home on the sidelines in the form of Matildas goalkeeper coach, John Gorza.

"He has been my keeper coach since I was 11 or 12 so my very first goalkeeper coach," she said. "So I think that was quite emotional for the both of us even though we tried to hide it a bit.

"It was nice that he was there and he's always probably been one of my toughest critics because he knows me the best. So to have that debut and him be there and him warm me up and stuff it kind of felt full circle for us both."

Micah kept a clean sheet in her debut and was later announced in the Matildas' 18-player Olympic squad. Barring a knee injury which required surgery, her 2021 had gone from strength to strength.

"I feel like I've gone from a definite [third-choice goalkeeper] to pushing for game time," Micah said.

Micah was Australia's third choice keeper at the World Cup in 2019. She has since finished her college career, been named W-League Goalkeeper of the Year and is now in Tokyo, a two-time capped Matilda at her first Olympics.

"I'm still trying to grasp that. In a way it surprised me," she said. "But in a way it doesn't because I know how hard I've worked. And I've had lots of different coaches influence me over this time and spent a lot of time away from home and things like that. So all those things. I feel like I'm getting rewarded for but I'm still just trying to keep my feet on the ground, honestly. It's kind of crazy."

There was a time when she believed that her Matildas chance wouldn't come because of where she decided to play her football.

"For so long, I didn't want to go to America. And that was the stigma," she said. "It was like if you go to America, you go to college, you're out of the national team. Out of sight, out of mind kind of thing."

Micah may not have wanted to go to America, but America wanted her. UCLA had contacted the then 18-year-old repeatedly, but she was reluctant until a chat with some Western Sydney Wanderers teammates who had had the college experience.

"I was at the Wanderers at the time and there was two players, Carmelina Moscato and Keelin Winters," Micah said.

Her teammate, Demi Koulizakis, was being scouted by Texas Tech and so college soccer came up in conversation.

"We were in the warm up and I was just saying, this guy from UCLA always messages me and I just had no clue how big UCLA was, how big the college system was. I was so naive," she recalls.

"I just thought this guy is always messaging me, telling me to come over and in my head, I was like, I'm never going to make Matildas if I do that.

"I certainly wasn't good enough for the Matildas at that age. I wanted to study as well. And then those two players turned around and said to me, 'What are you doing? If I could go back to college, I would go to UCLA. Call him!'

"I went home and called him back. And we spoke for an hour and a half on the phone. Within a month, I'd signed my scholarship."

Micah ended up loving it. She stayed four years at UCLA, making 84 appearances for the Bruins. She kept 36 clean sheets and has gone down in the record books; setting the all-time second for saves made at UCLA and third all-time for clean sheets.

The college experience was very much the catalyst for the journey Micah is on now. And without it, things could have been very different in her sporting life.

"I think I wouldn't be here playing football if I didn't go to America. I was struggling a lot before I left. I didn't know if I really wanted it," she said.

"And I have said it so many times and I say to my parents if I didn't go to America, I hand on my heart think I would have quit and played AFL. So I think going to America kind of saved me in that way and just reignited the love for the game."

Her time at UCLA gave her a degree, the chance to live away from home and mature, as well as meet and interact with so many other UCLA athletes. It also provided Micah with the best thing for her development: game time.

"You can train as much as you want, you can train with the best players in the W-League environment. But if you're not playing, you're not going to get better, you have to be playing and being put in those situations," she said. "So for me, it was just a lifeline in terms of a football career, and I can't recommend it enough for young people to go over there and get your degree and play with the best facilities and top colleges."

As for what's next, Micah has finished her short term contract at IL Sandviken in Norway but will be hanging around the continent.

"I think it should get announced soon, but I will be sticking around in Europe," she revealed. "I won't be able to go back to the W-League, unfortunately. But I think that's just the decision we have to make now. So I'll be around in Europe, at least until the World Cup which I'm excited for."

For now her focus is on Tokyo and what she can do for the team.

"I mean, obviously, it's always nice to get minutes and especially because it's an Olympic tournament, that's massive," she said. "I think any way I can help the team is a success for me, whether that's on the bench, pushing Lydia [Williams], whether it's me playing, I think that's a success as well."