UCSC defender Claire Lim kicks the ball to safety during one of her international Philippines women’s soccer games.
UCSC defender Claire Lim kicks the ball to safety during one of her international Philippines women’s soccer games. Photo courtesy of Claire Lim.

While most UC Santa Cruz students completed their winter quarter finals in daylight, Claire Lim was up until 3 a.m. to take hers. In her hotel room in Manila, Philippines — over 7,000 miles away — she stayed up studying for her second exam despite being 15 hours ahead of Santa Cruz. Mere hours after, she prepared for practice with the Philippines women’s national soccer team.

Claire, a junior starting defender for UCSC’s women’s soccer team, has competed on the international soccer stage since her senior year in high school. She was a recent member of the Philippines national soccer team that qualified for the upcoming 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup. The Asian Cup is one of Asia’s prestigious soccer competitions and this is the first time the team has made it to the tournament in over 10 years.

“It’s amazing to be able to represent the Philippines by doing something I absolutely love,” Claire said. “And at the same time, daunting to be a part of something so much bigger than myself.”

The Asian Cup brings the team one step closer to earning its first bid to the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France — a stage never reached by either men’s or women’s soccer teams in the Philippines’ history.

Claire is eligible to represent the national team because of her dual citizenship. A player must have citizenship, biological parents or grandparents born in the region or have lived there for at least five years to play on a national level.

Her call to go to the Philippines for preparation to compete in Tajikistan’s qualifying tournament on March 15 coincided with week 10 and finals week of the 2017 winter quarter — an opportunity that meant she had to miss finals week and take a leave of absence during spring to compete.

“It was definitely stressful in the beginning because I wasn’t sure if my professors would allow me to miss classes and finals week,” Claire said. “However, all my professors were so understanding and worked with me to figure out what I could do to still do well in my courses.”

Her journey began in Piedmont, California, where she started playing soccer at six years old. Claire said she always gravitated to the sport she grew up loving. She tried gymnastics and dance as a kid, but nothing compared to soccer. Soccer is a shared family passion — her older sister Katherine played Division I soccer at Boston University and her older brother and uncle played competitively.

Claire was introduced to the Philippines national soccer team in 2012 during her junior year of high school. Katherine initially played overseas for a few tournaments and was considered the more adept player. But she saw talent in her sister and she encouraged Claire to pursue her own international career.

“I’ve always looked up to her,” Claire said. “Coming out of high school, I wasn’t sure if I could play at the college level, but my sister had the utmost confidence in me and told me I can accomplish anything I want.”

Claire continued honing her skills during high school, hoping to finally receive her own invitation to try out for the team. Within a year, she got her chance to follow her sister’s footsteps when the Philippines team coaches asked her to attend a tryout in Corona, California.

Since then, she has participated in competitions throughout Asia, including three tournaments on assignment from 2013-17. She doesn’t play full seasons, however. Instead she gets called upon for individual tournaments with a month’s notice to fly to Manila.

Claire initially came to Santa Cruz to focus on her studies as a psychology major, despite her recruitment at other Division II schools like Sonoma State. Claire was even ready to give her up her time on the field to focus on her studies and pursue a career in sports psychology. However, her passion for the game was strong and she immediately tried out for the team once she arrived on campus her freshman year.

“She can play anywhere on the field and have a positive contribution to the game’s outcome, whether she’s a defender, midfielder or forward,” said senior midfielder Megan Carey, a teammate of Claire’s for three years. “Claire is never going to stop working until she gets her job done.”

Claire made an immediate impact on the UCSC soccer team when she joined her freshman year, coach Emily Scheese recalls.

“Claire has the ability to change the game,” Scheese said. “She has been the team’s defensive anchor and knows how to read opponents movements by timing her jumps to throw off their rhythm.”

The same skills and work ethic that made Claire a defensive staple at UCSC have translated to her career abroad. The Philippines women’s national soccer team has dominated most of its opponents, outscoring them 18-6 in Tajikistan — where it competed against Bahrain, Iraq, United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

“Claire truly has a passion for the game and it shows when she is out on the field,” Scheese said. “She is always looking to improve and does so with a smile on her face as she takes on her next challenge.”