When Erica Wright was in fifth grade, the one-on-one instruction she saw during a Bethesda soccer club practice so intrigued her that she begged her father to let her join.
Seven years later, Wright, an All-Met who has committed to Pittsburgh, plays midfield for the under-17 Bethesda Eclipse. She competes for a club whose girls' teams won seven of eight age-group titles at this year's Maryland State Youth Soccer Association Championships. All of those teams are headed to the Region I tournament in Virginia Beach, helping to extend Bethesda's recent dominance of Washington area club girls' soccer.
Bethesda's state cup performance was the club's best since 2000, when the club won the under-12 through under-18 girls' titles. Since 2000, Bethesda girls' teams have won 36 of the 48 state girls' titles. The Bethesda boys' teams have done well but do not compare over the same span, winning nine titles.
The club can also boast a girls' national title -- the Bethesda Fury won the under-17 title in 2001.
"One of the things you're competing against is the aura of Bethesda," said Patrick Noel, director of coaching at Freestate Soccer Alliance, who coaches the Free-state girls' under-13 Titans and helps coach the Bethesda boys' under-16 United. "It's tough for kids and parents that haven't had much success, playing against them and against the idea of beating Bethesda."
Noel said other programs have been trying to find a way to match Bethesda's success, so they stress winning to players at younger ages and pay more for coaches and facilities than before.
"It's like competing with Nike if you're a shoe company," Noel said. "You have to develop your niche, getting coaches to develop younger players and keeping younger players on your team."
Bethesda's success stems largely from players like Wright, who develop their talent at an early age. Brad Roos, vice president of the Bethesda club program and a coach with the club for 26 years, has been coaching Wright since she joined. Roos said the program's best attribute is its ability to develop players, some who join at age 6.
"The best players gravitate toward the best teams," said Dave Nolan, who coaches Bethesda'stop-ranked under-17 Excel and the women's soccer team at Georgetown. "This particular Excel team has been one of the best teams nationally in the last 10 years. When they're that good, you basically let them play."
The Excel features two-time All-Mets Emily Forline and Hayley Siegel. Sara Gulley and Amanda Poach are also All-Mets playing for Excel.
The Eclipse held its last practice on June 23 before traveling to Virginia Beach for this weekend's regionals. For two and a half hours beginning at 7:30 a.m., players ran and practiced situational stages in a game, something Wright has never questioned because she sees the results.
Wright feels her understanding of soccer has improved significantly since she joined the Bethesda club.
"They knew what they were doing. [Bethesda] finds coaches that are good instructors on one-on-one moves and taking people on," Wright said. "I don't think a lot of clubs have that."