Olympic gold medalist returns for youth soccer clinic
HYANNIS, Mass. (AP) — Kristine Lilly gathered the group of about 60 youth clinic attendees together on the soccer field located in the outfield of Barnstable High School’s baseball field.
She yelled out “Barnstable!”, and the group of kids aged 6-12, responded by clapping back twice. Their collective eyes then fixated on Lilly, a two-time Women’s World Cup and Olympic champion whose 354 international appearances are the most in U.S. Soccer history.
Since retiring in 2011, Lilly has been back each year to run the Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod’s Annual Positively Different Soccer Clinic.
Sunday morning’s clinic at Barnstable High School made this her eighth.
“I like to be here with the kids, letting them try different things but having a good time out here playing the game of soccer,” said Lilly, who now lives in Medford after growing up in Wilton, Connecticut.
This year’s clinic had a new element.
In past years, Lilly hosted the clinic with her former teammates from the Boston Breakers, a women’s professional team that dissolved this past January.
Instead, Barnstable High’s girls varsity soccer team designated 27 of its players, all of them wearing matching red Barnstable shirts, to volunteer.
Barnstable goalie Morgan Dardia, who attended the same clinic when she was younger, and sophomore captain Kate Brewster were among those demonstrating their footwork skills in front of the youth, eventually breaking off into group drills, including small 5 vs. 5 games with small nets, passing relays and even an open-field tag drill.
“It was crazy putting it in a different perspective,” said Dardia, who called Sunday a humbling experience. “I remember coming back here as a little kid being like, ‘Oh, my gosh, she’s amazing.’ And then it’s like a completely different point of view coaching beside her.”
Lilly likes to put her own twist to these clinics. During her induction speech for the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame she talked about 13 things she loved about playing soccer. Sometimes she’ll juggle the ball or do some activity for 13 seconds.
During that speech, she said oranges at halftime were one of her favorite part of playing. There weren’t any on site Sunday, but there was plenty of food and water during breaks.
Perhaps most importantly, though, Lilly said she always has co-ed participation with majority female leaders to give women the chance to be role models.
“Their energy has been great,” Lilly said of the high school volunteers. “They already do community stuff and fundraising stuff that when I was in high school I wasn’t even doing.”
Added Dardia, “This is going to be the next generation so we really have to help out. We can’t be careless with this.”
Barnstable’s Keira Nakuchi, an 11-year-old who wore a No. 17 Tobin Heath U.S. jersey, attended this clinic for the third time Sunday. She has brought the same soccer ball three times, filled with signatures from former Breakers players. After Sunday’s drills, Lilly added her name to the ball.
“It was fun, really exciting,” Nakuchi said of the clinic. “Lot of hard work.”
Harwich’s Jade Pelletier, 9, also said he enjoyed the experience, high-fiving Lilly several times throughout the morning.
Lilly also spoke to Barnstable High’s girls prior to the clinic and had a question-and-answer session with the team. Brewster and Dardia said Lilly discussed balancing school and sports, maintaining lifelong friendships and staying in touch with family no matter what.
“She had such good advice to the girls as young women, just how being a soccer player is a piece of your story and there’s so much more to it,” said Meghan Figg, who coaches Barnstable’s varsity squad with Lee Docherty. “I’m so thankful our girls got to hear that from somebody who knows what they’re talking about.”
Long before she scored 130 goals, which is third all-time in U.S. history, Lilly had developed her skills at Packer Soccer Camp in her home state, where she still volunteers.
She went on to have a stellar high school experience — the field and a street in Wilton are named after her — followed by winning four straight national titles at the University of North Carolina. Lilly’s 23-year international career actually began when she played for the U.S. against China when she was just 16.
Now she runs these soccer clinics, in addition to helping coach her 11- and 6-year-old daughters’ youth soccer teams.
In addition to next year’s Women’s World Cup, 2019 will also be the anniversary of the 1999 U.S. team that won the World Cup final in front of 90,000 fans at the Rose Bowl.
“We were part of the development of the game, which led to all these great things that are happening,” Lilly said. “They’re on TV so much now. It’s great to see society had changed in that sense. It’s where we are. People want to see women’s soccer and that’s huge.”
Information from: Cape Cod (Mass.) Times, http://www.capecodtimes.com