Khammar and Papatheodorou represent the River Hawks around the world
Senior Chaima Khamar and second graders Ioanna Papatheodorou are both student athletes who play soccer here at UMass Lowell. In addition, however, both play for their national football teams abroad. Khammar plays for the Tunisia national team and Papatheodorou plays for the Greece U19 national team. Playing on behalf of a nation is an honor not many can claim, but these two River Hawks jump at the opportunity.
“I couldn’t really believe it, it was just an amazing feeling,” said Khammar when asked how she felt about being offered the opportunity to play for Tunisia. “I was just very happy and proud of myself.” This honor was not given to Khammar by accident, she deserved it. For years, Khamar played in the Frauen-Bundesliga, the highest women’s soccer league in Germany. She played for FC Koln, a well-known and very respected club in European football, not only in Germany.
“I enjoyed my playing time in Germany, but it was definitely a learning experience.” said Chammar. “It was definitely a bit intimidating but I was just glad I did it and I made the most of my time to keep learning a lot.”
During her time with the professional team at 1. FC Köln, she completed seven different assignments. Her performances were solid and she began to think about her next move. Being in high school and playing in such a competitive league made Khammar want a change in her life. After graduating from high school, she decided to attend college in the United States and chose UMass Lowell as her school of choice. According to Khammar, this change has been great.
“When I first arrived at UMass Lowell I was very shy and quiet. Now, in my senior year, I’m a completely different person. I’m more independent, open-minded and also more direct. Not even as a player, but for mine personal development, it was so worth coming to the States.”
This change and continued growth on and off the field earned her an invitation to join the Tunisia national team in 2021. She made her first appearance for the team on June 13, 2021 in a match against Jordan, which Tunisia won 2-0. Her next performance would be a few months later on October 20, where she played her part in beating Egypt 6-2. Six days later, she would register her first start for the national team. Their game pushed the team 1-0 past Egypt.
Next, Tunisia will compete for the Africa Cup of Nations in July. The winner of this tournament qualifies for next year’s Women’s World Cup. Colleague River Hawk teammate Ioanna Papatheodorou also gained experience at international level and represented her native country Greece. “It was an incredible feeling,” Papatheodorou said when asked how it felt to be part of the Greek national programme. The passion when you play for your national teams is crazy. You’re playing against the best of the best, which pushes you to do your best.”
She was first invited to the U17 squad in 2019 when she played for Artomitos FC in Super League Greece, the country’s top football league. Her strong performances and hard work later earned her a place in the U19 squad. Papatheodorou put in an admirable performance for the U-17 side, scoring four goals in six games in the 2019 UEFA qualifiers. In her recent appearances with Team Greece U-19 side, Papatheodorou has played outstanding football, scoring twice and providing one assist in six games in this year’s Euro qualifiers. Although Greece narrowly made it through the group stage, Papatheodorou was happy for her country. “We were so close so I think it’s an achievement in itself to get this far,” she commented.
Speaking to Papatheodorou and Khammar, it becomes clear that football is their true passion in life. They have been playing since they were kids and they both want to play for many more years to come. That’s one of the reasons they decided to come to Lowell to play NCAA Division I football. During their time here, the duo have realized how different football is in the US compared to overseas and how their experiences in Europe can help them play better as collegiate.
“I learned that athletics are really important here in the States,” explained Khammar. “Although in Germany it’s more tactical and technical. We spend most of our time in the weight room, which is not the case in Germany where we spend more time on the field.” As a result, Khammar has benefited greatly from this contrast. She’s becoming more athletic and technically sound thanks to UMass Lowell, thanks in part to her game with the Tunisian national team. Thanks to this polarity, she’s always improving one aspect of her game and it shows on the pitch.
Last season, Khammar played thirteen games in her career, of which she started four. She recorded three assists and seven shots on goal for the River Hawks.
Papatheodorou reiterated the differences in playing style at college and international level and how those differences have made her a better player.
“The two teams are very different. I get fewer chances as a forward with Team Greece, so I’ve learned that I have to take chances when I get them. That has made me more creative when I have the ball and pushed me to be a better finisher when I take my chances.” This work paid off in stages. In her freshman campaign with UMass Lowell, she registered ten goals in sixteen games. Those ten goals were the most scored by a single player in the America East Conference all season.
Football has given this couple far more than sporting opportunities. It has enabled both of them to travel the world, visiting numerous countries and learning about different cultures.
“By traveling to different places, I can connect with people all over the world and you never know when you might need them,” Papatheodorou explained. “It gives me the certainty that someone will always be there for me. I prefer to travel to America, I don’t want to lie. It’s the closest thing to Greek culture and I think it’s great. I’m definitely looking forward to traveling more in America and seeing all the different places.”
“I love to travel so much and I’ve discovered that in myself recently,” added Khammar. “Seeing these different cultures was great and so interesting. It really helped me develop as a person. Also, I would definitely say my favorite place I’ve been to with both teams has to be Niagara Falls with UMass Lowell.”
Standouts at both the collegiate and national levels, both Khammar and Papatheodorou achieved so much early in their careers. However, both are not yet satisfied. All eyes are on the upcoming season at Lowell.
“I want to win the America East Championship,” Papatheodorou exclaimed when asked about the future. “That’s all that matters to me and all I really want right now. I don’t care about the other things.”