For seven members of La Jolla High School's girls soccer program, the summer has been filled with practices, games and cross-country travel. And most of them say they wouldn't consider for a second trading in all their hard work for a typical summer of days enjoying the sun and sand of the local beaches.
Amanda Beary, Alix Foster, Rosie Jaye, MaddySharp, Courtney Volger, Katie Wahl and Jessica Wood are all Vikings soccer players who are members of the Albion Soccer Club, and their girls under-15 team recently won its region at the U.S. Club Soccer Regional Championships in Boise, Idaho. By doing so, the team qualified for a trip to Greensboro, N.C., where it will compete in the USCS National Cup tournament later this month.
The U.S. Club Soccer National Cup VI will be played July 21-31, with the Albion team scheduled to play its first game on July 28. Albion will compete in the Girls Under 15 Super Group along with seven other teams: De Anza Force, First Coast KYX, Irvine
Strikers, HBC Elite, Vista Shockwave, St. Louis SC Blue and FC Delco Sting.
Albion will play three games in a round-robin format over the course of three days, and on July 31, the top teams in each four-team bracket will meet for the championship.
Albion got to the National Cup by dominating its region in Boise, going 2-0-1 in its four-team bracket, then beating Westbound FC of Washington, 1-0, in the semi-finals and topping Washington Premier FC, 1-0, in the regional championship game.
Wood said she is eagerly anticipating playing in the National Cup in North Carolina, even if she is still basking in the glory of winning the regional title in Idaho.
"It was so exciting," she said. "We've won it two years in a row now, and the competition was a lot better this year than it was last year. Last year, one of our main players got injured in the final in Idaho, and that hurt us once we got to North Carolina. This year, we should have a full roster, and I think that should help us a lot."
"It's amazing to be able to go and compete at that high a level. There are so many other girls who I am sure would just die for the chance to go do something like that. The fact that we're all able to and we're all doing it, it's just perfect."
Wood, who will be a sophomore at La Jolla next year and played on the Vikings varsity team as a freshman, plays defense and midfield for Albion. She has been with the club for five years, and said the camaraderie built among the team's members - many of whom have also been part of the club for years - has helped them achieve the success they have this season.
"We have a great group of girls who have all been playing together for a long time and who all play together really well," Wood said. "And all the coaching - they've taught us the Brazilian way of playing soccer, which involves possession and a lot of skill and mind work, instead of just kicking the ball, so everything is put together really well."
Added Rosie Jaye, a stopper who will be a sophomore in the fall: "We have a new coach who's really strict, and I think that's helped us out. Practice has been a little more intense."
Wood said she enjoys the club season because of the challenges it presents, as well as the opportunities it provides to improve skills and compete at a high level.
She also said there are some distinct differences between club play and high school play.
"In club soccer, since you're all the same age and around the same size, the games are usually more evenly matched," Wood said. "It's different than high school, but both are very competitive."
"I think it will help me, because it gives you such a different feel on the game. When I play club, I normally play outside defense, and on the high school team, I play center mid. It gives you completely different views and ways of playing."
"Also, in a lot of regions of the country, teams play in different ways. One region might be more into possession, and other regions might be more into just kicking the ball up the field. So there are a lot of different styles of play that you're exposed to."
As the team prepares for its trip to North Carolina, its players know they'll be facing some serious competition on a grand stage. They're also looking forward to other elements of the trip, from bonding with teammates to sightseeing and visiting colleges in their downtime.
"The games probably should be the most fun part, but traveling and being with your friends is a lot of fun, too," Jaye said.