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A Dream Come True: Bobcat Plays for Fiji National Soccer Team

May 31, 2024
UC Merced soccer player Preeya Singh
UC Merced standout Preeya Singh has taken her soccer journey to international levels.

Between academic semesters and collegiate soccer seasons, UC Merced standout defender Preeya Singh is representing Fiji on the world stage.

Over the past eight months, Singh has played in multiple World Cup and Olympic qualifying games in addition to NAIA National Championship matches. She has scored goals, won trophies and anchored shutouts. Singh, a biological sciences major, also earned a trio of academic accolades recently and has a 3.78 GPA through four semesters.

Singh is a California Pacific Conference Tournament champion with UC Merced. In 2023, she started all 19 games and logged a team-high 1,598 minutes as a sophomore center back. Singh’s presence on the backline saw UC Merced record a program-record 14 shutouts.

Singh was born in Modesto and grew up in Manteca, but her parents and grandparents were born in Fiji. The Singh family is of Fijian-Indian descent and Preeya had been to Fiji multiple times before high school graduation, but it was the summer before starting at Merced when Fiji and soccer became a dream come true.

“I remember my dad had told me I was going to go train with them,” Singh said of the national team. “I was still 17.”

A talk with the coach after the first practice changed Singh’s soccer career.

“She asked me if it was something I wanted to be a part of,” recalled Singh, who had never thought playing for the national team would happen. She said yes immediately.

“I was going to take my chance because representing my country is something that is very important to me,” she said. “Especially because Fiji is where my family is from and I love my family. I hear the stories my family talks about and I just wanted to make them proud.”

Singh started the citizenship process. The summer after her freshman year at UC Merced, she had everything required to become a member of Fiji’s Under-19 women’s national team. She flew to Fiji and after a couple of weeks in camp, competition for the Fiji Young Kulas in the Oceania Football Confederation U-19 Women’s Championship began.

The women’s soccer teams in Fiji are called the Kulas, after the national bird.

Singh, a defensive midfielder, scored her first international goal against Samoa and was named Fiji’s player of the match against New Caledonia after anchoring a shutout and assisting the game-winning goal in the 85th minute.

This team does not only represent my country, but it is also full of amazing young women who I am grateful to call my sisters.

Preeya Singh

Singh was the only United States-based player on the active roster, but she became acquainted with team in the blink of an eye.

“I already knew how happy and welcoming people were in Fiji,” Singh said. “You just see the smiles. But actually becoming friends with my teammates and seeing how their personalities are and seeing how generally happy people can be no matter what their story is. They were always just dancing, laughing and singing. It was the most beautiful thing to see.”

To make everything sweeter, the tournament was held in Fiji with avid fan support. Singh loved putting smiles on young faces. She has enjoys walking out with youth on Bobcat Field and signing autographs in the United States, but being a role model to Fijians is different.

“You see little girls who look like you, and you see how they look at you and what they say, and you are just like, wow,” Singh said. “It’s just shocking. It’s something that I had never experienced before. They make me feel like I am actually doing a good thing. Especially in Fiji, because the girls there aren’t doing sports, especially the Indian ones in Fiji.”

Singh recalls parents saying “my daughter watches you. She will grab her soccer cleats and sit in front of the TV.”

“I am just glad what I am doing is making an impact in these little girls’ lives,” Singh said.

Whether it’s the children playing outside on Queens Road when driving around the island or the ones watching Singh represent Fiji on the pitch, every person Singh comes in contact with warms her heart.

Fiji finished second to New Zealand in the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship. On Oct. 4, when Singh was starting what would become an eight-match winning streak in a UC Merced uniform, it was announced that the Junior Kulas earned a spot in the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2024 with the tournament expanding to 24 teams.

The tournament will be held in Columbia in late August. The Young Kulas will come to the United States for a series of friendly matches earlier this summer to help prepare.

“This team does not only represent my country, but it is also full of amazing young women who I am grateful to call my sisters. Being able to play alongside them as well as represent my country in the U-20 World Cup is one of the greatest honors of my life and I am beyond grateful for this opportunity,” Singh said.

Between playing with the Young Kulas and after her sophomore season at UC Merced, Singh played with the Fiji national team in the 2024 Summer Olympic Women’s Football Tournament with the winner representing Oceania in Paris this summer. Fiji made it through to the group stage before falling to New Zealand in what would have been a historic upset.

“On the national team, we also had a lot of the younger girls I played with on the U-19 team because they were using these games as preparation for the U-20 World Cup,” Singh said. “We played against New Zealand, and honestly no matter the score, I was very proud because we stuck with it. We didn’t play to lose, we played with our heart and I was just super proud of everyone for giving it their all until the last minute. I was almost in tears because I was so proud.”