PLAYER TO WATCH: Batya Bagully’s Journey from San Diego to Kazakhstan
The stories of players returning to their home country to play at the international level provides inspiration for us all as we imagine stepping foot on a pitch far away. The beauty of soccer highlights this very aspect of presenting players with the opportunity to embrace their culture while also building a pathway for success on the global stage.
LA Galaxy SD standout Batya Bagully was called to represent the Kazakhstan Girl’s National Team last year and cites her experience as just the beginning of her dedication to the game.
Related News: Bagully in Europe
Youth Soccer News: LA Galaxy San Diego is an outstanding youth soccer club with a long history of developing great youth soccer players that can go the distance — but usually that distance is on the field or in the local community.
Now, going the distance has taken on new meaning in a remarkable way.
The honor of wearing your national team kit and hearing the national anthem is what players dream about during their youth years. Many steps go into reaching this achievement, along with many risks needed to be taken.
Now, girls have a new inspiration — a youth player they can look up to and who will serve as a powerful role model.
Batya Bagully is a young girl with big dreams who began her international career as a member of the Kazakhstan U16 Girl’s National Team last spring and has quickly made herself a regular on the scene.
Bagully was adopted by her parents from Kazakhstan when she was 10 months old and currently plays for Los Angeles Galaxy San Diego (LAGSD). She has played for LAGSD since she was 8 years old.
Now competing with the Kazakhstan U17 Girl’s National Team, Bagully has experienced enormous growth that is not strictly confined to her development on the pitch.
The 16-year-old began her journey with the Football Federation of Kazakhstan (KFF) in 2016 when a trainer at LAGSD mentioned the possibility of her playing for her home country.
James Whittington, Bagully’s father, mentioned the idea to her and she was on board with the possibility. Whittington reached out to a UEFA contact in Switzerland, and the head of KFF’s women’s program followed up by emailing Bagully. She ultimately traveled to train with the team at the National Team Academy in Shymkent, Kazakhstan, and has since made her way into the squad for the U17 side.
“Our motivation was for her to have a connection with her birth country, Kazakhstan,” says Whittington. “This is a way for her to explore her heritage through her passion. It is a part of who she is.”
Along with Bagully embracing her culture during this process, her emergence at the international level has allowed for her to walk on the pitch and gain some of the most memorable moments during her short soccer career.
“The first time I played on a professional pitch I had to touch the grass to make sure it was not turf — it was that perfect,” says Bagully.
Bagully further recalls the honor she felt when hearing her name on the loudspeakers and goes on to explain that wearing the national team kit is one of her proudest moments during her career thus far.
“The first time I heard my name announced in the line-up and heard the national anthem of Kazakhstan, I was filled with incredible pride,” says Bagully.
“Playing on the national level is the highest honor. It’s one thing to go out and play for yourself, or your parents or coach, but to go out and be playing for a whole country — that is the ultimate experience.”
As one can imagine, the experience Bagully has encountered may be one that even an adult would have a hard time adjusting to in such a short period of time. However, Bagully and her teammates are committed to a common goal rather than a bunch of individuals, which has provided her with a smooth transition into the group.
“From day one it was not about me, or this person or that one, it was about Kazakhstan,” says Bagully. “Never have I met teammates that said ‘nice to meet you, now lets get to work’ on day one. I was accepted right away, and it was like I had known these girls my whole life. I trusted them and they trusted me.”
She illustrates her experience with the national team as being a constant adventure that at times forces her to rely on teammates for translation during their schedule.
“On the occasions where the instructions are speaking specifically to me, the translator will stand next to the coach, I look at our coach, but listen to the translator,” says Bagully.
She notes that during meetings the team manager will whisper what the coach is saying, but after a loss, there is a common understanding of the need to improve their performance.
Throughout this experience, Bagully has received tremendous support from her parents as she strives to achieve her dreams. Although Bagully’s parents travel with her, face-to-face interaction is limited during competition. She may see her parents when the team takes the field for a match or sometimes after a game when they are leaving the locker rooms and getting on the bus.
“My parents have never missed a match, and it’s hard for them because they turn me over to my team for a week or two at a time,” says Bagully.
“When we played in Scotland, there were a couple thousand people watching and there was my family holding up the Kazakhstan flag and cheering. That was pretty cool.”
Her club coaches also have incredible influence during her preparation, which includes her coach Phil Shuttleworth putting in extra training in order to get her mentally ready before traveling.
“All my coaches are encouraging, and Daniel McKell is always excited for me because he played for his country of Trinidad and Tobago,” says Bagully.
Although the international experience is limited to a couple months during the year, Bagully and her teammates communicate through Instagram, SnapChat and FaceTime on a regular basis despite the 14-hour time difference.
“I love my team. Whenever we say goodbye there are lots of hugs and kisses,” says Bagully. “Even though we are thousands of miles from each other most of the year, I still talk to them on an almost daily basis.”
As she approaches her final years of youth soccer, Bagully’s goals are no secret — play at the highest level. In the CIF Semifinals on March 1st, Bagully and her teammates were edged in overtime versus Torrey Pines. Over the weekend, her school advanced to the 2017 CIF Southern California Regional DII Girls Soccer Championships after beating Poway 1-0 in the third place match — Bagully scored the game-winner.
She also scored the game-winning goal during the quarterfinal matchup, and closed out the year earning Varsity Offensive Player of the Year at San Marcos High School during just her sophomore year.
She now turns her attention back to her club and preparation for the next national team call-up, which will be in April of this year for a UEFA tournament in Montenegro. Bagully is also setting her sights on the future with her verbally committed to the University of Hawaii in 2019.
Although her collegiate career is a couple years away, she does not shy away from the worth this experience will have when she arrives in Honolulu.
“I think my national team experiences will be very valuable when getting ready to play on my university team,” says Bagully. “I know what it’s like to join a team and come together quickly.”
She cites her ability to focus on making each pass count a vital component of developing composure, which has more importance when you are behind in a match.
“I’ve had coaches who said that sometimes you learn more from your losses. I think you learn something from every game you play,” says Bagully.
Following her collegiate career, Bagully has hopes of returning to her home country of Kazakhstan to play professionally.
“After college, I would like to play professionally for a team in Europe, maybe Biik Kazygurt — the top women’s professional team in Kazakhstan,” says Bagully.
This will not be her last stint in the game as she wishes to give back and provide youth players from developing countries with the opportunity to play the sport we all love.
“I want to get a job at UEFA in Geneva and help football federations build youth programs in developing countries, especially their girls programs, so that they have a chance to play the best game in the world.”