As a youngster, Samantha Mewis competed with her club soccer teammates for the right to don Mia Hamm’s jersey.
“Oh yeah, I had posters of Mia Hamm and Michelle Akers in my room,” Mewis recalled. “I idolized them. . . . Watching them showed us you could represent the US and play international soccer. That paved the way for us to play this style of soccer that we do, and we are definitely indebted to those players.”
Now, young girls can look up to Mewis, who recently was named 2020 US Soccer Female Player of the Year, an award Hamm captured five times.
Mewis, a Weymouth native, has made impressive progress, going from alternate status on the 2016 Olympic team to a driving force in the US midfield on the way to winning the 2019 Women’s World Cup. She became the first Massachusetts native to score a goal in the WWC as the US won its fourth title in France.
So, what changed? Did Mewis suddenly improve?
“Anyone who’s lucky enough to be in with the national team to train is just going to grow from that experience,” said Mewis, who returned to Boston this week after helping Manchester City win the Women’s FA Cup. “My experience being a sub and an alternate meant, really, more was demanded from me. I definitely had to grow if I wanted to stay with the team.”
Mewis credited support from the North Carolina Courage’s Paul Riley, who coached Mewis’s teams to three National Women’s Soccer League titles, and North Reading-based trainer Walter Norton Jr.
“When I go to the gym, I don’t go just for the workouts,” Mewis said. “Walter knows how to handle the ups and downs. He always believed in me and pushed me to demand more of myself.”
The year presented plenty of highs for Mewis, 28, who became the 17th winner of the top player award.
Mewis produced consecutive two-goal games as the US defeated Costa Rica and Mexico in Olympic qualifying matches in February. After the NWSL Challenge Cup tournament in July, she led the way for US players in a move to the England FA Women’s Super League, joining Manchester City in August.
On Nov. 1, Mewis opened the scoring as Manchester City took a 3-1 overtime win over Everton in the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium. Among Americans, only Carli Lloyd (Manchester City) and Christian Pulisic (Chelsea) had converted goals in an FA Cup final.
Once international play resumed last month, Mewis teamed with sister Kristie as the US took a 2-0 decision over The Netherlands in Breda, the first time the siblings had played together since 2014.
“I was so proud of her making her way back to the team,” Samantha said. “Having her in camp was so exciting, and then she comes in and scores a goal. It shows the character she has. She fought her way back, and to be part of that was so cool.”
Kristie, now with the NWSL’s Houston Dash, led the way for the sisters growing up. After winning US Soccer’s Young Female Player of the Year award in 2008, she played for the Boston Breakers and three teams overseas, including Germany’s Bayern Munich.
“To be honest, the only reason I can play at this level is I’ve been around Kristie my whole life,” Samantha said. “Her work ethic, believing in yourself even when odds are stacked against you.
“I knew she could do it. For her to recommit herself and come back [to the national team] was so inspiring. In my gut, all along I knew she could. Anything Kristie sets her mind to, she’s capable of doing it.”
Mewis has been joined at Manchester City by former Breaker Rose Lavelle, and three other national teamers have made the move to England: Tobin Heath and Christen Press (Manchester United), and Alex Morgan (Tottenham).
“Everything has been great so far,” Mewis said. “I’m really enjoying my time with the team. Any time you get a change of environment, you’re bound to learn something new.
“I found playing in [England] they are extremely technical and really just tactically aware of the game. It’s a style that is demanding tactically, and I’m growing and learning and evolving my game.”
Another reason for Mewis’s emergence with the US was a switch from an advanced role to holding midfield four years ago. She contributes a strong presence, a unique combination of tactical awareness and technique with attacking instincts and size. At 6 feet, Mewis edges out Akers (three-time Player of the Year) and Abby Wambach (six-time winner) for tallest player in USWNT history.
As for athleticism, the Mewis family credits mother Melissa, a Globe All-Scholastic basketball player at Hingham High School who went on to star at Northeastern, and grandfather Bob Lang, an All-Tech Tourney Class B center (future Celtic Tony Lavelli was the Class A center) for Braintree High School in 1944.
Coaching played a strong part in Mewis’s development, from the club level (Scorpions Soccer) to high school (Whitman-Hanson Regional). Mewis said players such as Ally Sentnor, a Hanson resident headed to the University of North Carolina via Thayer Academy and South Shore Select, are receiving similar guidance.
“I think growing up playing with Scorpions it was about being technical and skillful and trying to pass your way up the field, instead of kicking it upfield or using physicality,” Mewis said. “We were taught a mind-set and it carried through.
“I am a big player and I’m very fortunate to have developed the technical side of the game at a young age, so now I kind of have both, stature and [skill].
“Something I learned when I was young was to try to play with both feet. At the international level, a lot of players are much more comfortable with one foot. If we were right-footed, Fred Marks [Scorpions director] told us to practice twice as much with our left foot.”
Mewis left for UCLA in 2011, and has spent most of her career away from home, returning briefly to play for the Breakers’ academy team while Kristie performed for the first team in 2014.
“I haven’t given up hope of bringing an NWSL team back to Boston someday,” Mewis said. “Obviously, it is such a great sports city, and if it ever happens, Kristie and I would love to play or be involved in that. Kristie cherished the time she spent playing here.”
Meanwhile, Mewis plans to resume the Super League season with Manchester City and prepare for a possible Olympic tournament.
“I’m soaking it all in and enjoying the ride because I know this ride is at a high level,” Mewis said. “And I just hope to be able to keep maintaining it.”