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All Grown Up, Hamm Comes on Strong

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 23, 1995

Soccer star Mia Hamm couldn't possibly be only 23 years old. There have been too many trophies, too many award ceremonies, too many trips around the world, too many NCAA records that may never be broken, too many adoring teenage fans, too many commercial endorsements.

It seems almost inconceivable that someone who graduated from Lake Braddock High School in Fairfax County only six years ago, someone who still fondly remembers her club-playing days with the Braddock Road Shooting Stars, has already become one of America's most accomplished female athletes.

In two weeks, when the U.S. women's national soccer team begins defense of its world title at the Women's World Cup in Sweden, it will have been nearly eight years since Hamm began representing her country on the pitch.

"A lot of times, when I think about how long I've been doing this, I just think to myself, Man, I'm really tired,' " Hamm said with a laugh. "People think that since I'm only 23 that I've just started playing competitively and that I'm going to play in four more World Cups or whatever. But I've been with this team for eight years. That's a career for a professional football player or basketball player."

Hamm made her first U.S. team appearance on Aug. 3, 1987, in Tianjin, China. She was a 15-year-old starting forward. The team won, 2-0. Since that day, Hamm has played in 89 of the Americans' 96 mostly victorious matches. She sat out yesterday's 2-1 win over Canada in Edmonton -- the squad's final exhibition tuneup before its World Cup opener June 6 against China.

She didn't score her first goal until 1990, but her total has since reached 47, third-best in U.S. history. There was a three-goal performance against Australia in 1993 and four against Trinidad and Tobago last year. In 14 games this year, she has scored 12 times.

"We've watched her mature into one of the best players in the world," said forward Carin Gabarra, 30, whose U.S. career began a month before Hamm's. "I remember one training camp {a few years ago}, I caught myself watching her and forgetting I was playing because she had raised her game to such a high level."

Hamm's playing style is elegant and exciting, an alchemic mix of excellent ball-control skills, breakaway speed and an insatiable appetite to attack.

As the right wing on a three-player forward line, she creates scoring opportunities by zipping by a helpless outside defender in a flash. She finishes her chances with a booming right-footed shot that can conquer any angle or goalkeeper.

"When Mia is on," U.S. Coach Tony DiCicco said, "there's no one better -- in the world."

In the American soccer community, her ascension to stardom was inevitable. The daughter of a now-retired Air Force colonel and a mother who works for a Naval contractor, Hamm learned the game at every stop during a nomadic childhood. She lived in California and Italy and Texas before moving to Northern Virginia in 1988.

By that time, she already was a big part of the national team's plans. But in one season at Lake Braddock (after sitting out a year because of transfer rules), she had 27 goals and 9 assists in 18 games and was named first-team All-Met as the Bruins won a state title.

The day after she graduated, her parents moved back to Italy. But for Mia, the next destination was the University of North Carolina, which has dominated women's soccer since the sport was introduced by the NCAA in the 1980s. She spent five years in Chapel Hill, sitting out the 1991 season so she could play for the national team in the inaugural world championships in China.

By the time her collegiate career ended in 1993, she was a three-time all-American and ACC player of the year, a two-time national player of the year and she had compiled 103 goals and 72 assists, NCAA records "that will be secure until the end of recorded time," according to Anson Dorrance, the legendary UNC coach and DiCicco's U.S. predecessor.

Hamm's achievements also were noticed outside the soccer world. In 1994, she won the Honda-Broderick Cup as the nation's outstanding female collegiate athlete and was one of four finalists for the Babe Zaharias female athlete of the year award. (Speed skater Bonnie Blair was the winner.)

The 5-foot-5 Hamm was the youngest member (19) of the 1991 world championship team, starting five of six games and scoring two goals. She was primarily used in a supporting role, a midfielder creating opportunities for Gabarra and Michelle Akers, the U.S.'s all-time leading scorers.

Now, she has been given a more prominent role as a scorer and a leader, despite the fact that only seven of the 20 players are younger than she is.

"In '91 I had the luxury of playing behind an incredible group of people," Hamm said. "This time I have a little more responsibility, and I want that responsibility. I'm trying to do more and the team is helping me do that. Everything seems to be working out."

It's also working out for her financially. In addition to the monthly salaries that the U.S. Soccer Federation are paying most of the players, Hamm signed an endorsement contract with Nike. She has been in television and magazine ads and regularly makes appearances at youth clinics.

Her exposure likely will increase next year, when women's soccer makes its Olympic debut. This summer, however, the U.S. team is only concerned with defending a world title. Hamm is sure to play a major part in it.

"She's maturing as a player and as a person," DiCicco said, "and she's ready to show the world how good she is."

© Copyright 1995 The Washington Post

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