Fun and hectic U-19 whirl is Part 1 of Holmes' World Cup game plan

On High Schools

High Schools

October 19, 2004|By MILTON KENT

YOU KNOW HOW when people get absolutely fabulous gigs - like, say, playing soccer all day in fabulous places like, say, California - and they try to make you feel better by saying that it's such a grind, such hard work?

Well, Dulaney senior Meagan Holmes wouldn't try to snow you with that kind of talk, not that she could from Southern California. Her time with the United States' Under-19 women's team this summer and fall has been nothing short of the time of her life.

"It's a lot of fun, and I have definitely met a lot of new people. It's a great experience," Holmes said on the phone over the weekend from the training site in Los Angeles.

Actually, Holmes has been crisscrossing the country from New Jersey to Florida to California since being invited to train and try out with the U.S. team this summer, on the recommendation of Dave Nolan, her Bethesda Excel club coach.

Holmes, who played with the Under-16 and Under-17 national teams as part of the U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program, earned her way onto the 21-player Under-19 roster that was named last week. That team will open play in the FIFA Women's World Championship for players under 19 in Thailand on Nov. 11 against South Korea.

The travel, the disruptions and the upheaval (more on that later) are all part of Holmes' master plan of making the senior national team someday and playing for the World Cup.

"I just want to go out, perform well, have no regrets and come back with a championship," said Holmes, a second-team All-Metro player last year.

Holmes, who has committed to attend Santa Clara next year, is one of seven high school players on the U.S. team, with the rest of the squad consisting of college freshmen and sophomores from solid programs such as North Carolina, Virginia, Stanford and Connecticut.

In other words, Holmes is having to prove herself on a very difficult stage, against players with a lot more experience, in addition to shifting from midfield to defense.

It's the kind of setup that could crush the spirit of a young player before her international career gets into full gear, but so far, Holmes doesn't appear to be intimidated by the situation or the competition.

"It's definitely more competitive than high school. Everyone basically has the same goal and is playing for the same reason," Holmes said. "It's not that I am learning [from the older players]. They're making me become a better player. I have to play at a higher level to compete."

Said Mark Krikorian, the U.S. team coach: "There certainly are some differences, and a lot of that is in experience and in maturity, in terms of their play, because they haven't had a college season. We have [seven] kids on our team that are high school kids, so she's in a pretty good-sized group. And all of those kids share similar qualities in that they're pretty focused and hard-working and diligent."

Krikorian, who took over the team earlier this year, said Holmes has made rapid improvements from camp to camp and from match to match, so much so that she has a shot to start during the world championship.

"She's a whole lot more than just a good athlete," Krikorian said. "She's a good soccer player. She reads the play well. She's good with the ball. She can solve problems when she is in the attack, and she is very, very tough and tenacious on defense."

However, it's Holmes' off-the-field performance under these circumstances that should draw raves. In the middle of a killer travel schedule that has taken her all over the country and to China, with another trip to Asia in the near future, Holmes is still a student at Dulaney, albeit one with a reduced course load.

Originally, Holmes said, she was taking four courses, but she has had to cut back to two classes, an English course and an internship, where she keeps a journal of her experiences. When she is in town, Holmes said, she does go to school, but for only a few days at a time.

Perhaps the only downside of Holmes' world travels is that she is unable to play with 11th-ranked Dulaney, but she has taken that philosophically.

"It hasn't been too bad," she said. "It was definitely hard when I was trying to play with them, because I was trying to play when I had come back from practice, and I should have been taking time off. They're doing really good right now. They're undefeated, so they don't miss me.

"I was really excited to play in my senior year and win a state championship, but that's not part of the big picture for me. I'm basically doing what I have to do to get where I want to go in the end."

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