Massachusetts has been at the forefront of women’s soccer for more than a century. The game was introduced into high school girls’ sports programs in the early 1910s, and the South Boston Ladies SC formed one of the country’s first female soccer clubs when it made its debut in 1922.
But the rest of the country caught up with the Bay State, and since the Women’s World Cup started in 1991, only four Massachusetts natives have been listed on the US women’s national team roster for the tournament.
The 1991 US team included defender Debbie Belkin (Needham) and the ’99 group had Lawrence’s Tracy Ducar and Natick-born Sara Whalen. The US team won both tournaments and the popularity of the 99ers influenced the current generation, including Hanson’s Samantha Mewis, who will be with the team in the eighth edition of the Women’s World Cup in France June 7-July 7.
“I can still picture the day in 1999 when the team won the World Cup,” said Bob Mewis, who coached his daughters on the Scorpions club team. “Kristie was 8 and Samantha  and that put such an impression on them, to see that level of play from the women at the time.”
The Mewis sisters decided then and there they were going to play for their country. By 2008, they were starting on the US team that reached the finals of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand, Kristie winning the Bronze Ball as the third-best player in the event. But by 2010, they were taking separate paths.
Kristie became a record-setting striker at Boston College and made her full national team debut in 2013. Samantha opted for UCLA, winning the 2012 U-20 Women’s World Cup in Japan and 2013 NCAA title. They reunited as Samantha earned her first US cap, both entering the match as substitutes in a 1-0 loss to Sweden in the Algarve Cup in 2014.
“When I first got called in to the full national team and got my first cap, stepping on field with [Kristie],” Samantha said. “It wouldn’t have been possible without her paving the way.”
Now, Samantha Mewis is forging her own path, contending for a starting role with the defending World Cup champions. Her poise, positioning, and presence (she stands 5 feet 10½ inches) as a holding player contribute security to the midfield, while also providing an offensive threat (in 50 games she has 12 goals).
“I love to watch her when she is able to play out of pressure,” Bob Mewis said. “It reminds me when she was young, how she would keep the ball away from the opposition and continue the play.”
Bob Mewis played soccer at North Quincy High School and Framingham State, then coached his girls. He credits his wife, Melissa, with contributing the “athletic genes.”
Melissa Lang Mewis was a Globe All-Scholastic basketball player at Hingham High School, then played at Northeastern and, after the basketball season, competed for the Huskies’ track and field team.
Melissa’s father, Bob Lang, played for Braintree High School’s Class B Tech Tourney basketball champions in 1944 and was considered a top baseball prospect, his career interrupted by World War II.
“Both our parents are passionate about sports,” Samantha said. “Mom is just so competitive. Whether it’s genetic or learned, she passed on the will to win and compete and be the best, and to be a strong woman in life. She wanted to win and [said] never be ashamed to want to be the best. We looked to Mom a lot, just as an example.”
Said Melissa: “I think that I am probably one of the most competitive people you will ever meet and I think that, in combination with Bob’s soccer IQ, really made a difference. Bob is real knowledgeable, he sees the whole game, and the girls must’ve gotten some of that vision from him. Bob is the soccer player and just knows the game and has such a nice way with the girls — he used to be a teacher so he has a very nice way of teaching them without being critical.”
When the sisters weren’t teaming up, they always seemed to be fighting it out, whether behind the house or “playing a stupid game in a [swimming] pool,” according to Kristie.
“Our backyard is just recovering from all the years of dribbling and shooting,” Bob Mewis said. “Kristie had this habit of kicking the ball 50 times against the fence before school. I had to replace the fence from the two of them out there.”
The Mewis sisters benefited from a welcoming atmosphere at the club and high school levels. Even after succeeding on the global stage at their age group’s highest level, they returned to play for Whitman-Hanson High School.
“We were lucky to have so many opportunities early on and be exposed to such good programs and have understanding coaches that wanted us to succeed,” Samantha said.
“What I really remember is the stuff off the field, what we used to do before games, traditions in the stairwell and singing on the bus and in the locker room. High school soccer was so important. It really kept it fun after the pressure and stress of the international game. Playing with friends kept me loving it. It was definitely physical, and I learned a lot, too. It challenged me in different ways. I had to be passing a lot, I got fouled a lot, I had to be a leader on the team, I was learning all new things.”
In recent years, Kristie has had a successful professional career, playing for five NWSL teams, including the Boston Breakers, but has dropped off the national team scene. Samantha won NWSL titles with Western New York (2016) and Carolina (2018) and, after being named an alternate for the 2016 Olympics, has established herself as a regular on the national team.
“Just persistence with her, she’s just someone who [knows] exactly what she wants in life, exactly what she wants in her career,” Kristie said of her sister. “She’s just so skilled, driven, and she’s the most relentless person, honestly, I’ve ever known. She’s such an intelligent player, she sees things on the field no one else really sees, and also knows exactly the type of player she is, what she’s best at and not best at, and uses that.”
When the US team kicks off the tournament against Thailand in Reims on Tuesday, Bob and Melissa Mewis plan to be in the stands, and Kristie will be training with the Houston Dash.
“It’s going to be so much fun watching her and all the girls on the national team,” Kristie said. “This is probably going to be the best World Cup ever. These last couple years women have, obviously, been pushing the barrier between men’s and women’s soccer, and sports in general, and it’s going to be massive. I remember that day, the ’99 World Cup, and I’m sure a lot of girls are like Sam and I. I remember I never felt anything like that before in life.
“Now, I’m sure there will 8-year-olds watching Sam and thinking the same thing.”