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Blaze bond at beach training camp

Auburn Soccer Academy U-18 team learns more than just sport
By: Eric J. Gourley, Journal Sports Writer
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For five days next week, 19 girls from area high school soccer teams will be stretched to their mental and physical limits at Dillon Beach on the Marin County coast. Conducted like a military camp, the training is much more than soccer in the sand for Auburn Soccer Academy’s Under-18 Blaze competitive team. “It’s sun-up to moon-up, running sand dunes,” said coach Aaron Willson, who has held two successful such camps. “It’s just insane. They can barely walk, talk or do anything because they are so physically exhausted, but it’s a phenomenal team-building thing. It’s the highlight of their year and also the worst thing they do all year.” It’s an opportunity for fresh faces Kaitlyn Evans of Del Oro, Audrey Furlong of Placer, Kacie McGeary of Forest Lake Christian, Kristen Stout of Rocklin and Kelli Johnston and Adrienne Van Auker to bond with their new teammates. There are no showers for the girls, who sleep in tents. Willson’s wife Wendy, an Italian cook, teaches them about nutrition and hydration. “It’s so much more than soccer,” the coach said. “They’ve seen the results of what really hard training can do. They don’t say a word to complain or ask how many more suicides they’re running. They just do it and it pushes them to the limit and beyond. We have people sitting on the beach with camcorders just watching us, shaking their heads. At the end of the week, the girls honestly have no idea their bodies could be pushed that hard that long.” Willson is more than a soccer instructor to the Blaze athletes. He prohibits profanity, monitors their MySpace accounts and checks their grades and attendance at school. “I’m the type of coach who is in their business 24/7,” he said. I’m making sure they’re behaving themselves. It’s life. Not only just on their school teams, but no offense even a lot of times they don’t get that encouraged in their home life. This is an opportunity for them to excel, the opportunity to play with integrity and maintain their class both on and off the field.” The Blaze are 2-1 on the young season after defending their title at a Reno tournament earlier this month. The team is comprised primarily of girls who compete against each other as rivals in the Pioneer Valley League each spring and spend the other 10 months each year working together on the pitch. “When our season ends, their high school season virtually begins,” Willson said. “When that season ends, ours begins. It’s nothing but a blast for them because they know each other so well that they know the other player’s favorite move. They talk a lot of smack to each other all in good fun.” Emma Obray, who scored a team-high nine goals for Placer this spring, is one of 10 girls on the Blaze who have played competitive soccer together for six years. As a U-11 team, the core girls traveled to Sweden to play in the Gothia Cup, the world’s largest soccer tournament. “It’s easier because I’ve been with the girls for way longer,” said Obray, who will be a junior in the fall. “It’s easier to play with the competitive team. It’s hard to get all the girls on the placer team to work together sometimes, and by the time you do the season is almost over.” The Blaze play 60 games together, roughly three times the number played at the high school level. “Placer’s something fun to do with all your friends,” Obray said. “I’m more competitive in comp soccer. There’s a lot more competition. We went to an Irvine tournament last year and there were some big girls there in our age group.” Willson believes half his athletes are considering playing at the collegiate level. “It’s a tremendous group of talented young ladies that know how to work hard both on and off the field. They know how to separate the fun part of sports and apply the competitive side.” Bear River’s Claire Newman is exceptional at goalkeeper for the Blaze. Colfax’s Kelli Johnston plays center mid alongside Placer’s Laura Nash. Del Oro’s Shelby Willson plays left midfielder and Placer’s Chelsea Deschwanden patrols the right. Obray is a force at center forward. “She’s just a wrecking machine and she’s doing nothing but getting stronger,” the coach said. The Blaze practice two or three days a week and run the American River Canyon on Saturdays when games aren’t scheduled. “We’re realistic,” Willson said. “They’ve gotta have family time and they’ve gotta have life. Grades are number one, but we expect the highest level of commitment. Certainly you’re going to have Grandma’s 80th birthday, but life’s all about decisions.” After a doubleheader at Railhead Park Saturday, the team leaves Sunday morning for their week on the beach. “Nothing is handed to these girls,” Willson said. “They have all the heart, not necessarily all the skill, but they will put in everything they’ve got and I’d rather take a player that’s got heart.”