College coaches crowd Columbia Invitational

May 29, 1994|By Gary Davidson | Gary Davidson,Contributing Writer

It's one-stop shopping for dozens of college recruiters at the 19th annual Columbia Invitational Soccer Tournament this weekend.

Seventy-three college coaches are registered to check out the talent at the three-day event that concludes tomorrow with championship matches in 11 boys and nine girls age groups at the Fort Meade Parade Grounds. Tourney publicity and field coordinator Mike Curry said at least another 20 to 30 coaches would arrive unannounced.

There's no day at the beach for serious youth soccer players this holiday weekend. The growth of the Columbia Invitational -- which had 20 boys teams 19 years ago and 248 boys and girls teams this year -- is part of a national trend.

For high school underclassmen, it's an opportunity to display their talents for hordes of college coaches, who can view large numbers of potential recruits in a short period of time.

"It's economical both moneywise and timewise to go to a tournament rather than go to a high school," said University of Maryland women's coach April Heinrichs. "It also gives us an opportunity to look at players from around the country."

The Columbia competition is one of four major youth tournaments every Memorial Day weekend in the Washington/Baltimore area. In Montgomery County, the Potomac Invitational logs in for its 14th year with 205 teams.

Fairfax County, Va., has competing events with the Joe Dougherty Memorial Tournament and The Virginian, each in its 19th year, both boasting about 335 entrants. The four tourneys draw a total of about 1,125 teams and 18,000 youngsters.

Coaches who register in advance at the Columbia tourney receive a packet with a tournament program and a player-by-player profile of each team in U-19 and U-17 divisions, including photo, grades, soccer achievements and other activities.

These mega-tournaments offer another advantage to college coaches. NCAA rules allow them only four overall evaluations of each player. At these youth events, a coach can survey a player in four or five games over a weekend and have it count as only one evaluation.

Add that to the general perception that select soccer is played at a considerably higher level than at the scholastic level, and in most parts of the country, top college coaches look almost exclusively at select programs and the Olympic Development Program for their players.

"You'll find more, better players in the club program," said University of Virginia women's coach Lauren Gregg, also an assistant on the U.S. women's national team. "You're going to be able to see a greater number of players [at youth tournaments]. Efficiency and finances [dictate] we target ODP and club tournaments."

James Madison University men's coach Tom Martin, whose Dukes have qualified for the NCAA tournament the past two years, said he will visit Fort Meade, the Potomac and Dougherty tournaments and see the U.S. men's under-20 team in Pennsylvania over the holiday weekend.

"I can take a folding chair and go to Fort Meade and see 200 17-year-olds," said Martin. "Where else can we see so many kids?"

For the competitors the weekend can be a grind, playing up to five games over three days. Add the pressure of impressing college coaches and the load might seem too much, but most of the kids seem to enjoy the proceedings.

"It's a great opportunity to get yourself seen. And it's a fun tournament," said Columbia resident Lindsay Waxler of the U-17 Severna Park Alliance.

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