She was just another tourist trying to match skills with the locals on a luxurious sandy beach beside the majestic Caribbean Sea.
Or so the guys from Playa Del Carmen in Mexico thought about Vernon’s Kira Lee for a few moments.
“They didn’t pass to me at first, but I scored a killer goal and then they started passing to me,” chuckled Lee, who also played some beach volleyball on a family Spring Break vacation.
A relaxed game of beach soccer was a chance for Lee to unwind and perfect her tan after an intense four-day Olympic Development Program (ODP) soccer camp in sunny Florida a few weeks earlier.
A 16-year-old centre defender, Lee had an impressive camp and was selected to play scrimmage games with the Select A team, the best 14 Under 17s from a field of 90. She also attended the camp last year.
“I learned a whole bunch about the defensive end,” said Lee, a Grade 11 Seaton student. “When to pressure and when to pull back. Things that were great for my confidence.”
Lee was also in Tampa last December when the Thompson Okanagan FC went 1-2-1 at the Super-Y Soccer League North American finals.
This trip was all about showcasing her skills for college recruiters.
Throughout the regular season, players are evaluated during their games by the opposing team coaches for tactical, physical and psychological characteristics that will determine their ability to attend the ODP National Camp.
The top players chosen by the scouting system in each age group per geographic division of the Super Y-League are invited to participate in the ODP National Camp. These camps are attended by U.S. National staff coaches to identify players for U.S. National Team Programs, as well as many of the nation’s top collegiate coaches.
“The coaches were really good; they knew what they were talking about,” said Lee, who played on a school exchange last year in Mexico.
“All the players were very good. Some were really fast. Some had great footwork and some just take you out. We trained in the mornings for two hours and played games at night. Our team only had one goal against and it was a real fluker. The wind really did take it from our goalie.”
Okanagan FC teammates Jordan Tassone, Courtney Hemmerling and Kianna Chuhaniuk also earned invites to the ODP camp.
Lee, who hopes to follow her older sister Lindsay (Alabama) into NCAA soccer, has already received e-mails of interest from colleges in Texas and Florida. She is training with her Pacific Coast League premier team and the UBC Okanagan Heat in preparation for the upcoming season.
“Kira is a strong athlete with good technical skills,” said Heat head coach Claire Paterson, who also serves as technical director for the North Okanagan Youth Soccer Association in Vernon.
“She is a tenacious defender with great timing into tackles; she is difficult to get past. She has developed well competing against male athletes in the WFC Academy in Vernon.
“She is always looking for opportunities to improve as an athlete.”
Lee, who turns 17 in August, will also play in the Open Division of the Vernon ladies league with the Little Tex Outlaws.
Vernon striker Kyra Rae Horvath, a year older and ineligible for the camp, did receive a ODP selection which gets her name in the college database.
“Even thought I don’t go, I get put in a college list and my name gets referred,” said Horvath, who turns 18 in October. “I have been in contact with UBC Okanagan and the U of C (Calgary). I want to keep my options open so I haven’t made a decision yet.”
Horvath, a 5-foot-4 aggressive, fast forward, attended a soccer academy in Medicine Hat before moving to Vernon for Grade 10 (Kalamalka). She played for Thompson Okanagan FC in the Super-Y and High Performance League (HPL) the last few years.
She attended the UBCO identification camp with all returning Heat players and about 25 other prospects last weekend, and felt she did well in the scrimmages.
Said Paterson of Horvath: “She’s a very good winger and another tenacious ball winner. She has a fantastic left foot that can whip crosses in.”
Horvath, who used to play high school volleyball and run short and distance running, plans to pursue a career in kinetics, hopefully landing a job in sports.
She plans to attend the Dinosaurs’ ID camp, April 26-28, in Calgary.