Two athletes on the TCU women’s basketball team have found a new family here in Fort Worth, despite being over 9000 miles away from home.
Senior forward Ella Hellessey and first-year forward Maddi Puli both left their homes in Australia at the age of 18 to join the Horned Frogs.
Head coach Raegan Pebley played a key role in bringing these two Australian natives to Fort Worth.
“Since I was at Utah State, I started developing connections with people in Australia,” Pebley said. “The convincing part is pretty easy. More and more Australians want to come over to the States and have that college experience and the education experience.”
The two Aussies had similar reasons for deciding to choose TCU as the place to call home.
“I’m from a smaller town, so initially, a lot of the bigger colleges were overwhelming,” Hellessey said. “I loved the coaching staff and what the team was about. That was honestly the main reason I chose to come.”
Puli visited TCU and St. Mary’s in April and committed on the spot.
“It was just the atmosphere, I think, and the coaches and the girls on the team,” she said. “I just felt like it was somewhere that I could call home, because it was so far away.”
Since Puli’s arrival to Fort Worth in the summer, Hellesey has made it a point to help connect with her and make her transition to America as easy as possible since some things in America are so different to her.
“When she came in the summer, I helped her translate things,” Hellesey said. “I just kind of advise her on what to do.”
Puli recounted a game earlier this season where no one knew what she was talking about besides Hellesey.
“She’s been great,” Puli said. “She’s really helped me fit in and helped me with any questions that I have.”
Though Puli has had the great fortune of having an upper-classman from the same nation to help her transition to being in the States, Hellessey was not so fortunate.
Hellessey came to TCU as a first-year back in 2016, but she was the first Australian player to commit to Pebley since she began coaching the Horned Frogs in 2014.
“Definitely, freshman year was a lot harder,” Hellessey said. “Breaks and holidays were the hardest, but I was super lucky with Kianna [Ray].”
Hellessey and Ray came into TCU in the same recruiting class, and they immediately connected as roommates in the summer.
“Freshman year we were summer roommates,” Hellessey said. “Her family has basically adopted me. I go back to her house for Christmas. They’ve taken me in as one of their own.”
Four years later, Hellessey and Ray are still roommates and are two of the biggest leaders on the Horned Frogs squad that currently sits at 7-1 on the season.
Hellessey said she is always trying to help lead on this team, particularly with the under-classmen that play her position.
“I try to keep the team focused on the team, because sometimes it’s difficult to separate your own performance from the team,” Hellesey said.
As a first-year athlete, Puli isn’t quite ready to step into a leadership role on the team, but she is still improving in her own way.
“I want to improve my lateral movement and handle the ball better, but I’ve really learned to be more vocal,” Puli said. “That’s something the coaches have really emphasized a lot.”
Both Puli and Hellessey spoke about how they’ve grown on the court since joining the squad, but they also emphasized their growth and change off the court.
“I think I’m a lot more independent now,” Puli said. “I have to do my own washing and cleaning and everything like that.”
For Hellesey, independence has come by living on her own and preparing for the real world.
Off the court, Hellessey has not only grown but also has found her calling once her basketball career is over.
Hellessey came to TCU as a biology major, but she quickly changed her major to environmental science, and her choice in major has taken given her some amazing experiences including a trip to Costa Rica and another trip to South Africa to work with rhinos.
“I think what Ella has done such a good job of is taking advantage of all the things that TCU provides,” Pebley said. “Not just within our athletic department, but more importantly within their major. Ella’s experience in going to Costa Rica and South Africa and being a part of research happening on campus is just an incredible experience.”
These two Australian natives have truly found a second home here in Fort Worth, thanks to the resources, teammates and coaches here at TCU.
Now they are both ready to help take coach Pebley to her first NCAA tournament appearance since coming to TCU in 2014.