Ally Courtnall had a choice to make.
In her youth, she went back and forth between Canadian and American national team programs, but there came a day when she had to choose just one country to represent on the national stage.
But the decision was made simple for her by the fact that the name “Courtnall” had fit so well on the back of the Canadian jersey 20 years before.
Her father, Russ Courtnall, was a member of the 1984 Canadian Olympic hockey team. The first time she put on the jersey he had so proudly worn decades before, he cried, seeing himself and his own national pride in his daughter.
“I always wanted to do what he did; I always wanted to represent a national team because that would put the biggest smile on his face,” she said. “He cried the first time I put on a Canadian uniform. I had the choice between the U.S. and Canada and I decided to pursue the Canadian route because of him.”
Keep on moving
In addition to the national team career his daughter admired, Russ Courtnall had an illustrious 16-year NHL career.
While it enabled him to play the game he loved, he struggled with missing his children’s youth.
“I missed out on those first things ““ when they walked, talked, first class, first play. Whatever those first things are, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll see them,” Courtnall said.
Although he might have missed out early on, he makes the most of the time he now shares with his daughter.
He retired with the Los Angeles Kings, and since the Courtnalls now reside in Los Angeles, the family takes advantage of the opportunities to watch them play.
“For the last three seasons, my dad was saying he knew they were going to win. … We’d go to each playoff game and we knew that the next year was going to be the year,” Ally Courtnall said.
The Courtnalls’ hopes came true last season, when the Kings won the Stanley Cup. While they attended as many playoff games as they could, she missed the Stanley Cup-clinching game because of finals.
“She’s still upset that I didn’t take her to the final game; watching sports is something we’ve really enjoyed together,” Russ Courtnall said.
Before she lived in Los Angeles, the Courtnalls moved all over North America as their father made his career in hockey. He played for seven different teams, in cities ranging from Dallas to Toronto to New York.
“I don’t get too comfortable with where I’m at,” Ally Courtnall said. “I’m always ready to move.”
The readiness to move is evident in more than just her living situation.
The sophomore isn’t just another defender on the UCLA soccer team, but an honorable mention All-American in track as well.
Though so much of who she is was influenced by her father, her mother came into the equation as well.
Ally Courtnall thought to take on track originally because her mother was a track star in her youth and though she was already playing soccer, but thought that track would help her with all the running soccer entails.
When she joined the track team, it was in an event for which she had no experience ““ the 4×400 meter relay.
“In outdoor season, they threw me into a new event and I worked the hardest I’ve ever worked just to prove that I deserved to be here,” she said.
“I made the traveling team and it was just such a great experience to achieve something no one believed that I could really do.”
Ally and her teammate, junior midfielder Chelsea Stewart, have a lot more in common than a Bruin uniform.
Stewart, who played on the bronze medal-winning Canadian team in London last summer, also has a father who played professional hockey.
For the two players, who entered UCLA at the same time, this connection fostered their friendship.
“It’s always nice having a fellow Canadian on the team; you bond over it. There’s stuff that’s particular to Canadians that we joke about. It’s nice to have that,” Stewart said. “It makes things kind of homey.”
And though so many see the influence of her mother’s speed in Courtnall’s game, Stewart notices some traits from her father as well.
“You can see in Ally’s play, she has a hockey mentality to her ““ she’s fierce and she’s not afraid to use her body.”
A family affair
Sports are a family-wide obsession for the Courtnalls, and it doesn’t end with Ally. She’s the oldest child of three, and her two siblings, Lawton Courtnall, 16, and Brooklyn Courtnall, 9, aspire to attain their sister’s high degree of athleticism.
Lawton Courtnall plays hockey like his father, and hopes to do so at the college level one day. Brooklyn Courtnall might be the youngest, but she hopes to match her sister’s achievements one day.
Not only does she also run track and play soccer ““ she wants to attend UCLA, just like her sister.
Having a sister who has reached such a high level in her sport has been an inspiration to the younger Courtnalls, and that relationship is another source of pride for their parents.
“Ally’s been a great role model, she works harder than any kid I know. … They’ve witnessed what it’s taken for her to get what she’s gotten, to succeed, it’s been fantastic for them to witness her growth and experience … and they know what it’s going to take for them to get to that level,” Russ Courtnall said.
When Ally Courtnall’s siblings look to replicate her success, they don’t have to go far.
She was recruited by schools all over the country, but made the decision to attend UCLA, less than an hour away from her family home.
The entire family can come out to watch her play every single home game.
“We are so spoiled to be able to come watch the Bruins play soccer, to see our daughter play. … I know so many girls are from other cities and their parents wish they were in the same boat,” Russ Courtnall said. “We don’t take it for granted, we feel really fortunate.”
The appreciation is mutual. For Ally Courtnall, having her family sitting there in the stands for each game pushes her to play as hard as she can.
In what has been something of a breakout season for the sophomore, where she has taken a much larger role on the team, she has been able to look to the sidelines and see Russ, Paris, Lawton and Brooklyn Courtnall sitting there at Drake, reminding her why she plays.
“It makes me more confident just having my parents there,” she said.
“It’s amazing seeing them so proud because it makes me want to play better.”