Author Topic: Locals fly high with Sky Blue  (Read 954 times)

Offline David

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Locals fly high with Sky Blue
« on: June 28, 2007, 02:00:51 PM »
BASKING RIDGE -- They may have their heads in the clouds but the players on Jersey Sky Blue have plenty of reasons to be optimistic. The upcoming World Cup is reviving interest of women's soccer and many of the players plan on jumping on the next wave of enthusiasm.

Currently Jersey Sky Blue is a member of the United Soccer League's W-League. Its teams combine experienced international competitors with some of the best American collegiate soccer players.

It is the first step of an organization based out of Bedminster, which hopes to play a major role in the future of women's soccer in the United States. Jersey Sky Blue is planning to be part of an 8-team professional women's soccer league next year. It has signed a letter of intent to be a charter member of the new as yet unnamed league which expects to be formalized in August.

The first-year club has been playing its home games at Ridge High School and has kept many area locals busy. Among them are the Rutgers trio of Gina DeMaio (Parsippany Hills), Erin Guthrie (Pope John) and Tricia DiPaolo (Lenape Valley). All three seem to be thriving in the new experience.

Both DeMaio and Guthrie played a half in the team's 5-0 victory over the Boston Renegades on Sunday. They performed like enhanced versions of how they played just a year or two ago when they ran the fields of Morris and Sussex County. DeMaio, a midfielder, can still expertly drill a 40-yard through ball that can catch a sprinting forward in perfect stride. She must now do it at a better pace and with a quicker release since that forward is now much faster.

Guthrie still works the penalty area like she owns it. The goalkeeper is also still the loudest player on the field and will climb up a goalpost to punch away a shot. However, her voice is more consistent and her movements are much quicker and more decisive.

They are both coming off strong freshman seasons at Rutgers. Like Guthrie, DeMaio knows her coach Charlie Naimo from her club days at the Players Development Academy.

"I'm learning a lot," said DeMaio, who was recently named to the U.S. Under-20 National Team pool. "One thing for me is the training. I don't think any team has the level of talent this team has with the international and national team players that we have. It's just good to go to training every day and get a chance to play against top level players every day."

Much of the team is a Who's Who of New Jersey women's soccer. Morristown sisters Jen and Elisabeth Redmond are veterans of youth level national team play. Ridge's Tobin Heath made numerous appearances on the US Under-20 team and had a standout freshman year at North Carolina. Clifton's Nikki Krzysik is also a veteran of the Under-20 team and W-League play. Rutgers' Kim Brandao (Rahway), UConn's Lauren Ebert (Hillsborough), Tennessee's Kylee Rossi (Pennington) and Villanova's Jillian Lloyden (Vineland) have all made their mark on various national teams or on the Division I college level.

Some of the international players have ridiculous skills. Erla Arnardottir, a member of Iceland's national team, nearly brought everyone in the small but vocal crowd to their feet on Sunday when her bicycle kick barely missed the net. Lara Dickenmann, who plays for the Switzerland national team and Formiga, a veteran of Brazilian national and Olympic teams, also compete for Jersey Sky Blue when they are free of their national team commitments. Dickenmann scored two goals on Sunday. Guthrie has practiced against them all.

"Their shots are moving all the time," Guthrie said. "Against every single player it's going to be hard every single time. I'm learning a lot, especially from Jill, (teammate Jillian Lloyden, Big East Goalkeeper of the Year). You just learn something every single day."

Naimo said that DeMaio and Guthrie have had little trouble fitting into the mix.

"They are great players and great players adapt," Naimo said. "They both have very bright futures. They've had wonderful careers to this point. They are just going to get better and better."

A number of the players on the Jersey Sky Blue roster have had to come and go because of their commitments to national teams. However, the team in general has some simple precepts to follow. Naimo just asks his players to strive to get better and be more consistent in their play and their ideas.

"It's a matter of how disciplined they are," Naimo said. "It doesn't matter the amount of time they have together as much as it is how each one has a level of discipline. All we're asking players to do is press the ball when it's in front of them."

The summer workouts, three to four times a week, have gotten all the players into optimum physical shape. Guthrie also says the experience has made her a more well-rounded in all aspects of her game.

"You have to be sharp every single practice," Guthrie said. "Everything in my game is getting a little bit better in everything. I've improved more mentally than physically.

"I'm more mature now. I think that it's given me an edge over a lot of people."

The team is currently 5-1 and in second place in the league's Northeast Division. The team's defense has only allowed one goal all season. One of the highlights of the year so far was the creation of a select team to play a friendly against the China national team on June 12 at Rutgers' Yurcak Field. Poor weather put a damper on the affair which ended in a scoreless tie but for some of the players it was their first experience against a team full of quality national team opponents.

"The China game was awesome," DiPaolo said. "I played the last 10 minutes but just getting on that field was unreal. The first five seconds I got stuck in a tackle with the keeper. That woke me up. The atmosphere was great. Even though it was raining there were so many fans."

Those who know DiPaolo are aware of her confidence and aggressiveness. She got some W-League experience last year with Naimo and the New Jersey Wildcats. She seems comfortable in any environment. The experience is giving her a leg up in preparation for her first season at Rutgers.

"The level is faster," DiPaolo said. "The speed is faster. It's more physical. Everything is different. ... There are times (when I hit a wall) and there are times when I fit in."

Like the other players, DiPaolo is thrilled with the fact that by the time her college career is complete there will be an established professional league for her to play in.

The new 8-team league will be announced in August with the New Jersey contingent, either Jersey Sky Blue or a merged hybrid heading a team that will play on Rutgers' Yurcak Field. Sky Blue will continue to maintain their W-League team and eventually expand to women's and youth teams. They plan to work in close proximity to a model that European clubs use to develop their programs.

"I think everybody is cautiously excited," Naimo said. "The reason why we all signed on to Sky Blue is that they have the same vision as we do -- to get to that next level.

"We all know that it's needed. We have to have a pro league. There are so many kids that play. We just need more people to understand that and do what we need to do so these kids have a place to play."

The thought of a professional league to play in has the athletes excited not only for themselves, but also to fire the imaginations of young girls with soccer dreams similar to their own.

"The professional league coming back," Guthrie said. "It's really big. For female soccer players it is the biggest thing."