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Scholarships With a Cost: Teenage Soccer Standouts Play Year-Round At Frenetic Pace

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Like many soccer players, Westfield senior Sean Murnane was feeling overworked in playing a year-round schedule of club and high school soccer. Fearing he might burn out, the All-Met Player of the Year took time off from his D.C. United Academy team this spring to focus on high school. Video by B.J. Koubaroulis and Paul Tenorio/The Washington Post

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By B.J. Koubaroulis
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sami Kuykendall woozily came off the field at Madison High, a bulge of gruesome purple swelling under her right eye after she withstood a soccer ball to her face from point-blank range. She gripped her new front tooth between her index finger and thumb, spotted her parents in the bleachers and shot them a smile. With Kuykendall playing her fifth game in seven days -- and having been tested seven times in the past three years for concussions -- the signal provided her parents some needed reassurance on the April night.

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A 17-year-old junior midfielder, Kuykendall has spent each of the past three spring seasons splitting time between the Vienna high school's varsity girls' soccer team and the under-17 McLean Premier Soccer (MPS) Dragons, the sixth-ranked club team in the country. The ball to the face, the concussions, the shattered jaw suffered in an aerial collision during a game last year (and subsequent tooth implant) are just a few notable entries on the list of injuries incurred during basically a year-round soccer season with a singular goal: a college scholarship.

"I made a decision, consciously when I was a lot younger, that this was the way to get to college soccer," Kuykendall said. That decision has meant she has played approximately 90 games in the past calendar year, including three club league schedules and a barrage of tournaments. By comparison, consider: D.C. United plays approximately 35 to 40 games a season, including exhibitions and club competitions.

This weekend, Kuykendall will be one of many area players at the Player Development Academy Girls College Showcase at Rutgers University. The club schedule -- combined with the high school schedule -- makes for year-round soccer and is especially intense during the spring, when Kuykendall plays for both teams.

That grind puts players at risk of short- and long-term injury, according to doctors. The social sacrifices are, Kuykendall says, countless. Her family's financial sacrifice is considerable. And the tension between club and high school team is omnipresent during the spring season.

Kuykendall said the conflicts and pressures have been worth it. She has committed to a 60 percent scholarship to play soccer at Virginia Commonwealth University in the fall of 2010.

Outside experts, however, warn of the potential costs elsewhere.

"We've really created an animal here," said University of Notre Dame women's soccer coach Randy Waldrum, the president of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. "It's just way too much soccer."

'This Constant Chase'

There are 98 soccer clubs in Virginia, according to Gotsoccer.com. In the under-14 to under-18 age groups, there are 11 girls' teams and six boys' teams from Northern Virginia ranked among the nation's top 25.

Varsity soccer is a spring sport in Virginia, making this an especially intense time for the area's scholastic athletes. Public schools in Maryland and the District -- as well as most of the area's private programs -- play in the fall, and many of those players compete with club teams then, subjecting them to the same pressures.

"You have to try to get on the best club team you can so you can get seen, to get seen in the best tournaments you can, to get seen by [the colleges] you want to get seen by," said Robinson junior Brooke Curtis, who also plays for the under-17 Vista Shockwave. "And now, it's like people are committing [to colleges] earlier and earlier, so there is this constant chase."

The Shockwave will be at the Rutgers event, the team's 19th showcase in less than 16 months -- a stretch during which it has traveled from Las Vegas to Orlando, playing in as many as five games in a three-day period. Ranked ninth nationally, the Shockwave has players from 14 high schools in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. Eleven of its players have accepted college scholarships; nine of those are full rides.


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