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La Jolla Athlete of the Week: Tahlia Zadeyan blends heritage with love for soccer in European tournament

La Jolla High School student Tahlia Zadeyan (top row, pink headband)
La Jolla High School student Tahlia Zadeyan (top row, pink headband) recently played with the Armenian Women’s U-17 National soccer team.
(Ankist Zadeyan)

Achieving the goal to integrate her heritage with a passion for soccer playing, La Jolla High School junior Tahlia Zadeyan recently spent two weeks abroad playing the game and connecting to her family’s roots in Armenia.

Tahlia, 16, was invited to join the Armenian Women’s Under-17 National Team for a training camp in Yerevan, Armenia from Sept. 26 to Oct. 3, sponsored by the Football Federation of Armenia.

The camp was preparation for the Union of European Football Association (UEFA) European WU-17 Championship Qualifying Round 1 mini-tournament, held in Luxembourg on Oct. 3-11.

The team was comprised of four Americans, including Tahlia, and seven others, all of whom are Armenian (Tahlia’s father is of Armenian descent).

The team and coaches “were awesome,” Tahlia said. “It was a really cool experience to be able to play soccer, which I do every day back at home, in this like new playing field with different advice from coaches … different players and … teams in international matches.”

She said the trip “totally lived up to its expectations.”

After the first week of practice together, the team traveled to Luxembourg where they played three games against Belarus, Georgia and Luxembourg.

The Armenian team defeated Georgia 3-0, “one of the first wins in a long time for the Armenian U-17 team,” Tahlia said. “It was really special.”

The Armenian team lost the other two matches, disqualifying them from advancing in the tournament.

Nonetheless, Tahlia said “to connect with my Armenian heritage was really cool.”

She said her Armenian great-grandparents fled Turkey during the Armenian genocide of 1915-1916, arriving in France. Tahlia’s grandfather was born in France and eventually moved to Chicago and then San Diego.

Tahlia Zadeyan learned much about her Armenian heritage.
(Ankist Zadeyan)

Tahlia and her father, Ankist, found out about the international soccer-playing opportunity two years ago. To qualify, Tahlia had to gain Armenian citizenship through a lengthy process.

Tahlia and Ankist traveled to Armenia together in the spring to meet the soccer team; it was each of their first times to the country.

During that visit and the subsequent trip to play with the team, Tahlia said she “did have a sense [that] all my ancestors were from here.”

She said being able to play soccer “which my whole life is about and connect that way to my ancestry … is an unusual experience. I’m so grateful for it.”

She added she will always remember experiencing “all these new things and having to learn to adapt to a situation.”

What made the experience challenging, Tahlia said, was that she was one of the only girls who didn’t speak Armenian. She said she struggled through translators and “figured it out through soccer knowledge.”

The teammates were welcoming, however, she said, adding she keeps in contact with them through social media.

“Soccer is universal,” Tahlia said, adding being part of such a tight-knit group who shared her passion for soccer was very special.

Back in La Jolla, Tahlia, a center back, plays for the Albion Soccer Club on its GA06 team, which won the national championship on the summer.

“It was something we had worked for all season,” she said.

Tahlia has played soccer for about 11 years, she said, and has kept with it because she loves “the team chemistry and having a second family.”

She said her current team is no exception: “I’ve always been super close with the girls.”

Tahlia, who hopes to play soccer in college, said she will play for the Armenian team again if offered the chance.

La Jolla Athlete of the Week features athletes from all sports in high school (La Jolla High, The Bishop’s School, La Jolla Country Day School) and other local youth sports. We’re looking not only for the stars of competition but also for student-athletes who set an example for teamwork, academic achievement and/or community involvement. Please email your nominations, and a way to reach your nominees, to Editor Rob Vardon at robert.vardon@lajollalight.com. ◆