Today, Glen Burnie resident Kim Myers is one of the three best teen-age goalkeepers on the East Coast and one of the 10 best in America.
But that wasn't the case three years ago, when critics questioned -- and even laughed at -- girls under-16 coach Mike Curry for keepingMyers on his state team of the Olympic Developmental Soccer Program.
Because Myers only started playing soccer as a 12-year-old, the critics figured Myers, then 15, was far behind the others -- the majority of whom had been kicking the ball around since they were in diapers.
They were impressed with Myers' size and said she had the height to be a goalkeeper, but she was too inexperienced and had limited technique and skill. Great heart, they said, but she's clumsy, raw and unpolished.
"I solicited their opinions and I got them -- then Ithrew them out, along with the politics, and made my own decision," said Curry, 37, who has been coaching soccer in the ODP for 16 years.
"I saw potential in her height, her strength and her quickness --which were incredible. And the harder she worked and the longer she worked, I knew it was just a matter of time."
Two weeks ago, Myers, 18, became one of just three Marylanders chosen for the 30-member girls under-19 Region I soccer squad. The others are Harford County's Julia Malinowski and Baltimore County's Terri Rich, graduates of JohnCarroll and Dulaney high schools, respectively.
All three left today for Colorado Springs, Colo., and a 10-day tryout in which the nation's four regional teams will compete against each other. The tryoutwill yield a pool of approximately 60 players from which the junior national team of about 25 players will be picked.
"Right now, I'm kind of enjoying looking back at some of those early criticisms of her abilities -- and I laugh," Curry said. "Some of her critics were onthe selection committee that eventually chose her. She's got to be feeling a great deal of gratification right now."
Especially for a girl who never played an organized sport of any kind until seventh grade. That's when she joined a friend in a soccer tryout for the Severna Park Green Hornets program, where she played for three years.
"The first thing the coaches said is that I was tall and they needed agoalkeeper," said Myers, who, at 5-foot-11 and 155 pounds, has perfect physical attributes for her position. "I had always got the job done, but I had no technique until I met Mike.
"A lot of things I was doing as a player were on the right track, but Mike kind of fine-tuned them. Mike's the one who drilled it into my brain over and over that goal-keeping is an art. He made me practice until my skills and my reaction level were automatic."
Myers, who started three years at Glen Burnie High, where she was a two-time All-County and All-Metroplayer, also got some tips from Severna Park grad and current Maryland Bays goalkeeper Warren Westcoat along the way.
"She was aggressive, but she had not been taught the ins and outs of the sport," Curry said. "She had to be taught how to think. She had to convince me that she was capable of making quick decisions. She came from a humble soccer background, but I could tell by her dedication that soccer meant a lot to her. She took constructive criticism very well, and it's hard to establish that kind of relationship with just anyone."
From there, Myers' success was immediate.
She was chosen for both theODP's state team and the regional camps for each of the next two years. Playing in the U.S. Youth Soccer Association, she anchored Harford United to its second and third straight State Cup titles be
foreswitching to her current club team, the under-19 Columbia Crusaders,and helping that team win its fifth straight State Cup title.
Myers, who graduated last spring with a 3.9 grade-point average, has received a full soccer scholarship to Rutgers University,
which was among the National Collegiate Athletic Association's top 10 teams lastyear.
There she will back up Saskia Webber, an alternate for the U.S. Women's National Team that is scheduled to play in the inauguralWomen's World Cup in November in China.
Before soccer, Myers' athletic experience was limited to rough-housing with her two older brothers on a Severna Park field adjacent to where she lived from second to eighth grade.
"My brothers were pretty rough on me," Myers said. "They still joke that I only make a good goalkeeper because I was used to getting beat up all the time."
As a goalie, Myers is still taking her share of beatings.
In each of the two previous summers,she had come within a hair of making the Region I squad, only to be sidelined with injuries. Last year, it was the right knee. The year before, the right elbow.
And on the second-to-the-last day of this year's tryouts, bad luck nearly struck again.
"I pulled a lower-back muscle and had to sit out most of the last day," said Myers, who, by that juncture, already had proved herself to the observing coachesand ODP officials.
Her summer training regimen had included lifting weights, running two miles a day and attending Curry's goal-keeping practices at least once a week, but Myers has spent the last few days lying down, resting and nursing her injury.
To the surprise of the dissenters, however, she has yet to fall flat on her face. She does, however, dive face-first when threatened by an attacker trying toget past her for a goal.
"Whether tackling a player or going in the air to grab a high cross, she's like, 'That was easy, bring on thenext one,' " Curry said. "When she's fired up, her aggression and tenacity are just among the best I've seen -- ever."