Transition to college is smooth for Staples Freshman wins spot on national team

February 28, 1993|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Staff Writer

Thori Staples is moving up the national women's soccer charts with a bullet.

After finishing off an impressive college debut at North Carolina State, she was honored as Soccer America magazine's National Freshman of the Year earlier this month.

And the Joppatowne graduate is still on the rise.

Two weeks ago, she earned a spot on the U.S. Women's National Team. The only college freshman selected to the 18-woman squad, Staples will begin competition this week at the Cypress Cup in Cypress, Greece.

Such a meteoric rise has taken even Staples by surprise. Although her goals included winning a spot on the national team, she never expected to make it so quickly.

"I'm just overwhelmed," she said. "This is a very big jump from college-level play. It's extraordinary. I think it's about three levels higher and the intensity and speed of the game are much higher."

Staples, 18, earned her fullback spot on the national team at an invitational training camp that concluded Feb. 16 in Orlando, Fla. Now, she will have to compete to keep that position.

The U.S. Soccer Federation National Team coaches conduct training camps and tryouts for every new tour. Some of the same players are selected, but newcomers like Staples are given chances, too.

"I think she's being rewarded as much for her potential and athleticism as anything," said N.C. State coach Larry Gross, adding that the average age of the national team is about 24 years.

"They want to bring some promising players in with the older players who are aging. They're looking for the future, someone who's going to get better and better, someone with good talent athletically who lacks experience. Those are the kind you like to find, because athleticism you can't teach," said Gross, a Towson State graduate.

Staples' speed and athleticism are what drew Gross' attention as well as that of many other college coaches. She demonstrated that natural talent as an All-Metro striker and a versatile All-Metro track star at Joppatowne High.

In soccer, she led Harford County in scoring for three years, compiling 84 career goals. At the same time, she excelled on defense playing with the highly competitive Columbia Crusaders club team.

In track, she piled up 10 state titles in four years and set a Harford County record of 15.2 seconds in the 100-meter hurdles last spring. In 1991, she won the national AAU heptathlon championship for girls 17-18.

Still even for the best high school athletes, the jump to the college level can be difficult. But Staples made it look easy.

"I knew skill-wise and tactically, Thori would have quite an adjustment," said Gross, "but her ability to grasp things was very speedy. She was able to use her athleticism to offset her experience limitations."

One of Gross' priority recruits, Staples started every game for an injury-troubled N.C. State team that finished 15-5-1. Named ACC Rookie of the Year, she also made first-team All-ACC and second-team All-South.

Staples said she intended to run track this spring but now may change her mind. Making the national team has taken a lot of time away from her studies, and Staples, who carries a 2.7 grade-point average, said she is not sure she can afford to miss much more.

But she has never hidden her preference for soccer over track.

Now after marking some of the top strikers in the nation, Staples welcomes the challenge of trying to stop some of the best strikers in the world.

"I feel if I play with this level of player as often as possible, this

makes me a better player. If I keep getting invited to these camps and get to play with the best in the world, then I'm going to be the best soccer player I can be," said Staples, whose ultimate goals are to compete at the World Championships and in the Olympics, although women's soccer is not yet an Olympic sport.

Gross said he expects Staples to return from her first international tour with more confidence as well as an improved game.

"Thori knows there are areas she has to work on. An experience like this helps to highlight those areas," Gross said. "At that level, any flaws will be exploited. Just having great athleticism isn't enough. It's a humbling experience that I think every athlete needs a little to strive to improve."

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